Tropical High

By Melissa Good

Part 7

Dar gave the condo door a curious look as she listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. "Gerry, we're not equipped for that." Dar closed her eyes against the throbbing she could feel growing in her neck. "I have security teams that can protect data, sure, but this is a damn Navy base."

"I'm aware of that, Dar. " Gerry's voice was uncharacteristically serious. "The trouble is, we can't shake a team loose to go down there for at least forty eight hours.u"

By then, it would be too late. "Damn."

"John Taylor, from the JAG office is on a plane headed your way." General Easton stated. "He'll handle the official part, but if there's any way your people could protect the evidence… "

"Gerry, people could get hurt." Dar said. "This isn't the kind of thing we get involved in. Corporate double dealing, yeah, but smuggling? I’m responsible for these people, and for their safety." She paused. "And I don't know how many bastards are implicated." Injudiciously, she shifted, and stifled a gasp. "Shit."

"Dar?" Gerry spoke quickly. "Are you all right?"

Dar bit her inner lip for a long moment, then exhaled as the sharp pain receded. "Yeah, I’m fine. I just twisted something."

"Well, listen my friend, I'll find some other way of doing this." General Easton replied. "If nothing else, we'll just round up the lot of them, and start shaking."

The unfairness of that, Dar acknowledged, was exactly what she'd been afraid of. "Hang on a minute, Gerry." She put the phone down and let her head drop back on the pillow, thinking hard about her options.

Was it dangerous?

Be honest, Dar. Sure it was. Look what happened to you last night, and Chuck was a friend of yours. Dar rubbed her forehead. This was a military base, full of sailors and marines, an unknown number of whom could be involved in criminal activity, and react with violence.


If she didn't help, innocent people could, and probably would get blamed, and the criminals would probably get away. Dar mulled that over. Question was, how could she help Gerry, help the base, protect the innocent, and keep her people safe at the same time? "Jesus, Paladar." She murmured to herself. 'What the hell do you think you are?"

Finally, she picked up the phone again. "Gerry?"

"What's that? Oh, still here Dar."

"Let me see what I can do." Dar heard herself say the words, and wondered how she was going to back them up. "Maybe I can get a small volunteer team inside." Then an idea occurred to her. "With an escort."

There was a momentary pause. "Dar, do me a favor, eh? Don't take chances. I want to see your whole family this Christmas, been waiting for that for a long while now."

"See if you can contact that JAG staffer, send him over to my office." Dar evaded the question. "We'll get things moving here. Talk to you later, Gerry." She hung up, and put the phone down on her belly, considering what to do next.


It was a crowded doorstep. Kerry stood, effectively blocking the entrance despite her relatively small size. "Dar's on the phone." She explained. "It's business."

"Uh huh." Andrew crossed his arms. "Not like we'd know one word in six she was using." He eyed Kerry curiously. "Something bothering you, kumquat?"

"Me?" Kerry exhaled. ", no. I'm fine."

"How's Dar?" Ceci asked casually.

Ah. "She's… why are you asking me that?" Kerry temporized.

Dar's parents exchanged knowing looks. "All right, kumquat. What's going on." Andrew asked. "I knew something wasn't right."

Oh boy. "It's.. "

"She get hurt last night?" The question snapped at her.


"That little half assed bastard hurt my kid?"

"W.. y.. " Kerry sucked in a breath. "Yes, that's what happened, but.. "

"Son of a biscuit." Andrew was visibly angry.

"It's not that bad." Kerry put both hands out in a calming gesture. "We've already been to the doctor's, and had tests done. It's more painful than anything else."

"You got her to go to the doc's?" Andrew had both fists planted on his hips. "I am going to whip her behind for not tellin us."

"Dad." Kerry gave him a pleading look.

Ceci ruffled her silvered blond hair. "Some things just never do change, do they." She murmured. "Keep your BVD'd on, Andy. I can remember many a time I had to drag you kicking and yelling to the base hospital."

Her husband gave her a look. "That is not the point." He replied with a scowl. "We are not talking about me."

"No, no." Ceci patted his arm. "We're talking about your daughter. Remember her? The tall, blue eyed, dark haired girl with an attitude and more guts than sense?"

"Hey. She's got a lot of sense." Kerry objected.

"Exactly." Ceci remarked.

Andrew scowled harder. "If I'd a known that little.. "

"Yes, which is why Dar didn't tell you." Ceci circled his arm with both hands. "Now, come on, let's go in a see the poor kid. See if you can make her feel better, instead of yelling at her, hm?"

"Ah do not like Dar thinking she can't tell us something like this." Andy replied. "I do not like it one bit." He nudged past Kerry and opened the door. "Son of a biscuit." He muttered, leaving Kerry and Ceci behind to gaze at each other in bemused sympathy.

"He'll be nice." Ceci told her. "He talks a good game, but the minute she looks up at him, he's going to cave in like one of those marshmallows you toast over a Bunsen burner."

"I know." Kerry smiled. "I've been on the receiving end of those baby blues." She sighed, and opened the door. "But we've got a big problem.. I’m sort of glad you're here." She followed Ceci inside. "Dar went looking for trouble down at that Navy base."

Ceci stopped, watching Andy kneel at Dar's side. "And?"

"And she found it." Kerry replied grimly.


Dar sat on the couch, watching her father pace. The brick of cocaine was on the coffee table, and her mother was sitting across from her, staring at it in bemused fascination.

Kerry entered and sat down next to her lover, absently slipping an arm around her back and gently rubbing it. "I know it seems bizarre." She stated. "We certainly never expected this."

Andrew halted, and shook his grizzled head. "Ain't that saying something." He walked over and crouched down in front of Dar, putting a hand on her knee. "You know who done all this?"

Dar met his eyes, so very much like her own, and shook her head. "I haven't had time to analyze all the data we copied, and a lot of the structure is in the programming."

"You think Jeff knows?"

Dar shook her head again. "I don't know. I'd have to check the physical documentation, see what had his signature on it, or what passed through his personal authorization."

"What's yer gut telling you?" Andrew persisted quietly.

That took some thought. Dar focused her mind inward, reviewing the facts she did know, and the assumptions she'd made. She was vaguely aware of Kerry's arm, warm against her back, and she could feel the slim fingers tracing a soft, irregular pattern against her skin.

It felt really good. She leaned against Kerry a little, and the blond woman's embrace tightened as Kerry rested her cheek against Dar's shoulder.

Dar set the puzzle pieces out, and examined them carefully. One, she had a situation which was obviously a long term plan in progress - the evidence she'd seen indicated it had been going on for quite some time. Jeff Ainsbright had only been in charge at the base for three months.

Not enough time. Dar put a tick in that mental column. Two, whoever was organizing the situation had technical skills beyond Jeff's, and the general sense she got of the meticulous arrangements didn't fit the commander's personality. Dar put another tick in the column.

Three, with the number of people apparently involved, it would be damn near impossible for the base commander to be blind to the fact that something was going on. Dar put a tick in the opposing column.

Was it possible Jeff Ainsbright thought, as Dar had, that whatever irregularities he noticed in the books and procedures were evidence of some harmless, petty larceny which he could safely turn a blind eye to? Three months wasn't a long time to get a handle on a place as big as that was, after all.

Be honest, Dar. Her conscience quietly spoke. If this were just another target acquisition of Alastair's, would you even be considering the question? Or would you assume the worst?

Dar's eyes narrowed.

Cecilia sat back in her chair and tucked a leg up under herself, watching the silent tableau with fascinated eyes. Her daughter was obviously deep in thought, the blue eyes unfocused and remote, their lids flickering lightly as the mind behind them worked. Ceci had always had respect for the intellect she'd watched Dar develop, despite it's edgy restlessness that made Dar often hard to deal with.

She'd had her child tested, without Andy's knowledge, when Dar had come home from grade school one day, with a note from her fourth grade teacher informing Ceci that he was giving up on trying to retain Dar's attention in class. Even then, she'd tested years older than her age but Ceci had been shocked to find out just how high octane her little fourth grader's mind was.

Genius, the doctor had told her, was a two edged sword. On one hand, Dar's potential was unlimited. On the other hand, the very fact of that intelligence put Dar on a plateau that separated her at a time in her life when being different was tantamount to a childhood torture regimen.

And there she'd been, someone who'd had a high school education, and grown up in a family who valued the price of your car more than the depth of your thoughts, trying to deal with decisions on what to do about the whole thing. Ceci had felt so out of her depth raising her child.

Now, watching that same intellect, grown and matured into the sharp, incisive force shaped by Dar's intense personality that it was, she wondered if she'd ever have been able to deal with Dar, even if she hadn't had her so young, and been so isolated.

Dar's head lifted, and the introspective look vanished as she drew in a breath and returned to the hear and now. A cool expression settled over her face as she met her father's patiently waiting gaze. "No." Dar's voice was calm. "I don't think he was involved."

Andrew's eyebrows lifted a trifle.

"But I do think he was aware." Dar went on. 'The question is, to what degree."

Kerry nodded slightly, as though confirming thoughts of her own. "We won't know that unless we get all the data."

"Exactly." Dar replied. "Call Mark. Have him call in a security team. Make it five or six people, but tell him volunteers only." She turned and regarded Kerry. "I want them to know there's a possibility of getting hurt, and where they're going. No pressure." She watched Kerry nod. "We'll meet at the office. "

"All right." Kerry stood up and headed for the phone.

Dar looked at her father. "You want to help?"

"Hell yes." Andy responded immediately. "Tell you what. You stay up in that penthouse of yours, and rest yer arm, and I'll take them kiddies down to the base and shake their shorts out clean." He patted Dar's knee. "All right?"

"I don’t' think so." Dar's lips edged up into a tense smile. "But thanks for the offer, Dad."

"Dar, I'd be the last one to encourage your father to get into trouble, but it makes sense." Ceci offered, a trifle hesitantly. She felt a faint flush as a pair of sharp blue eyes pinned her, and reminded herself again of just how little a right she had to give her daughter advice. "Doesn't it?"

"No." Dar got up from the couch, moving fluidly around Andrew's still crouching form and stalking towards the study. "There's too many ways for someone who knows what they're doing to stop even one of our best techs from getting what I want. " She stopped, and paused in the doorway, the restlessness evident in her flexing hand. "But they won't stop me."

Dar disappeared into her office, leaving the rest of them to exchange looks.

"Nice try." Kerry offered, holding her hand over the receiver. "I could have told you he wouldn't go for it, though." She returned her attention to the phone. "That's right, Mark. It's the base.. no, I can't even start to go into it. " A pause. "Dar wants volunteers. Can we get a few?" Another pause. "No, that'll be up to Dar.. okay, we'll meet you there." Kerry put the phone down. "Okay, that's that." She glanced towards the study, seeing through the half open door Dar's tense form crouched over her pc. "Be right back."

Ceci exhaled, as Kerry, too, disappeared. She watched Andrew as he got up and crossed to her, then sat down on the tile floor with a sigh. "What do you think, sailor boy?"

Andrew shook his head. "Ah think this is the god damndest piece of horses butt end Iever did see."

"Mm." Ceci could only agree.


Kerry paused in the doorway, then entered the study and pushed the wooden surface closed behind her. Dar was studying something on her screen, but after a moment she stopped pointing and clicking, and looked up.

"Coming to tell me how stupid I am?" Blue eyes gave her a direct stare.

Kerry felt her heartbeat pick up, as she heard the tension in Dar's voice. "Have I ever said that?" She asked quietly, meeting Dar's gaze with patient honesty. "I don't think you're capable of being stupid."

Dar glanced at the screen, moving her hand restlessly.

Kerry sat down on the couch, and rested her forearms on her knees. "I could question your faith in my abilities, of course."

"Don’t." Dar snapped. "This has nothing to do with you."

"Excuse me." Kerry gave her a direct look. "You are sending my people into that place, it most certainly does have everything to do with me." She pushed herself to her feet and advanced on the desk. "I know how to supervise a security sweep, Dar. I've been doing it for months. "

Dar avoided her gaze. "This is different."

Kerry studied her. "Your father was right. You should stay here." Her voice gentled, to remove any sting. "You're too close to this, Dar."

Her lover drew a forceful breath and stiffened. "That's bullshit." She tipped her head back as Kerry rounded the desk and confronted her. "I’m perfectly capable of doing my job, thanks."

"No one's debating that." Kerry sat on the edge of the desk, realizing by the defensive tensing of Dar's muscles that looming over her wasn't a good idea. "But this is different, Dar. Think about it. You grew up at this place. These people are your friends." She put out a tentative hand and covered the larger one resting on the desktop. "I don't know if I could handle it if it were me."

Dar's face kept it's set expression for a moment, then the jaw muscles relaxed slightly, and she blinked. "Because I did grow up there is why I have to do this." She answered softly. "It's not that I don't trust you." Her eyes flicked up to meet Kerry's. "But I can't give you what I know, how I know the way things work there."

Kerry studied her lover's face, seeing the pain etched into the tense lines around her eyes. "I've seen the layout, honey. It's just a big complex system." She protested. "I know how to get it locked down."

"It's not that." Dar answered. "I just don’t want to take a chance. Too many people can get hurt."

"What about you taking a chance on yourself/" Kerry countered. "I don't want to see you get hurt, Dar." Slowly, she slid off the desk and knelt, looking up now into Dar's face. "Nothing is more important to me than that. Not this job, not that base… it's not worth the risk."

A faint smile finally tugged at Dar's lips. "Don't worry."


"You'll be right there next to me." Dar touched Kerry's cheek with her fingertips. "The only muscle I’m going to be using is this one." She lifted a hand and tapped her forehead. "I promise."

She wasn't going to win this one, Kerry knew. She was also smart enough to realize that what Dar was saying was completely true - they'd have a much better chance of not missing anything with her there. "Okay." She agreed. "You should take the rest of your drugs though, even if you don't want the painkillers."

Dar's face took on a wry smile. "I do want them." She sighed, and leaned back, relaxing a little now that the fight was over. "I want to take them, and lie down and just go out for the rest of the day." Her body felt stiff and achy, and the tension had given her a headache again. "But yeah, if you wouldn't mind bringing them over, I'll take everything but those, and some Advil."

Kerry nodded. "Sure." She leaned forward and kissed Dar's knee. "Mark and the rest of the team are going to meet us at the office in an hour. "


"Of course. " The blond woman smiled. "You said you wanted volunteers."

Dar sighed. "Figures he would. I wonder if anyone else will?"

Wonder if anyone else won't. Kerry amended silently.


Ceci carefully put her hands precisely behind her back and clasped them. So. This is where Dar and Kerry work. Her eyes traveled up and up and up to see the top of the atrium skylight, then back down across the marble and steel walls to the pretentious fountain in the very center of the space.

Somehow, she resisted the urge to yodel. The temptation to hear the echoes was almost overwhelming.

"There you go, ma'am." A security guard ambled over, and handed her a piece of plastic. "That's your badge."

Ceci accepted it, and clipped the item to her shirt. "Outstanding." She complimented the guard. "Does it check for radiation hazards as well?"

"Ma'am?" The guard cocked his head in puzzlement.

"Let's go." Dar had come up next to her. "Thanks, Devon."

"Any time, Ms. Roberts." The guard ducked his head politely at Dar. "Haven't seen you here on the weekend in a long time." He managed not to look too curiously at her beslinged arm. "Have a good day."

"Thanks." Dar led the way across the huge lobby towards the elevator, Kerry a pace behind her and followed by her parents. She felt a little unfocused from the drugs, but still fairly alert. "Did we tell Devon to be on the lookout for the JAG rep?"

"Yes." Kerry replied. "Twice." She swiped her keycard into the elevator receptacle, and held the doors as they opened. "All aboard."

"Tell me, Dar." Ceci commented, as they rode up. "Do you rent out mausoleum space in this place to South Miami Cemetary?"

Dar was leaning against the mirrored wall, staring at her reflection. An extremely grumpy looking slightly scruffy figure with a scowl was looking back at her. With an effort, she wrestled a little of her normal work attitude into place. "No." She eyed her mother. "We charge too much." She replied. "The American Cryogenic Society has the top floor, though."

Kerry chuckled. "That explains why it's so cold upstairs all the time." She remarked. "I had to wear a parka the first few months I worked here."

The doors slid open, and they left the elevator, moving along the very quiet hallway, past closed or darkened doorways. No one on Fourteen worked on the weekends, save occasionally the operations group, and it was pleasantly unchaotic for a change. "Wish it was like this all the time." Kerry muttered. "It's usual circus city at this time of day." She swiped her card at the front door to Dar's outer office, and heard the lock click.

Andrew reached around her and worked the handle, pushing the door open and allowing them into the darkened interior. "Cec, this ain't half nothing. That there place in Houston's got this beat hands down."

Ceci strolled in and looked around curiously. It was a good size space, with seating on one side, and a neatly appointed desk on the other. Across from the main doors was a set of inner ones, and that had a plaque on it. She looked at it as Andy flipped the lights on.

Dar's name and title.

With a sense of unreality, she followed as Dar opened the door to her office and went inside. It was light, Ceci noticed, and as she cleared the door she saw why.

Good goddess. She stopped, and stared. The place was huge - floor to ceiling teak paneling framed two walls, the other two were floor to celiing plate glass, giving a breathtaking view of the sea, all the way to the horizon. The room was filled with light from outside, which fell on the fine wood furniture, and the curved expanse of Dar's desk. Against one wall was a comfortable looking leather couch, and against the other, a credenza with a neatly put up silver tray holding a now empty pitcher and glasses.

Ceci noted a few other things. That the desk was absolutely spotless, and contained exactly no clutter, something she'd noticed about Dar's study in the condo. Remembering what a wreck her daughter habitually kept her adolescent room in, this seemed almost funny. The only things on the desk were the computer screen and keyboard, Dar's trackball, her in and out box, and a… Ceci walked closer, and squinted. And a pair of Siamese fighting fish in a small, interlocked Lucite tank.

Interesting choice. Ceci eyed her husband, who was rocking slightly on his heels, his brow tensed in thought.

"I'm going to start pulling up their network schematics and printing them off." Kerry said, as she headed towards the small door in the rear of the office. "Hope someone left the plotter up and linked."

"I'll check it." Dar went to her desk and sat down. "G'wan and take a seat." She told her parents, as she kick started her PC. The phone rang, and she hit the speakerphone button. "Yes?"

"Hey, boss." Mark's voice echoed slightly. "Saw your IP come active."

"Don’t you have anything better to do than watch Snoopy?" Dar asked, testily. "Is the plotter active?"

"Hang on." The sound of a keyboard cut clearly through the connection. "It is now. Let me boot the print server if you're gonna be sending anything big to it."

"Diagrams. Kerry's sending." Dar replied. "You get some people to come in?"

"Yeah. " Mark sounded preoccupied. "I had to rig a lottery though."

Dar braced a knee up against the edge of her desk. "What?" Her brow contracted. "Mark, damn it, I told you I wanted volunteers. What part of that didn't you understand?"

There was a momentary silence. "Um.. you said you only wanted six people, boss. I had to do a lottery to get it down to that." Mark replied carefully. "I had twenty five of those suckers show up here." He paused. "Did I do something to piss you off today?"

Dar regarded her hiking boot in mild embarrassment. Get your head out of your ass, Dar. "No, sorry, Mark." She replied. "I just want to get this started. Give Kerry twenty minutes to get those diagrams done, then c'mon up here."

"Will do." Mark replied, then hung up.

"Ahm going to get me some coffee." Andrew said. "You want some, Dardar?"

"No." Dar shook her head. "Dr. Steve said to stay away from that for a couple of days." Awareness of her injury nibbled uncomfortably at her. "Thanks for the offer."

Her father left, and Dar became aware of her mother's pale eyes glancing her way curiously. She lifted a hand and indicated the room with wry irony. "What do you think?"

Thus invited, Ceci obligingly got up and toured the room, ending up next to Dar's desk. "It's… um.. "

"Pretentious?" Dar dryly supplied.

"No, actually it has very pleasant proportions." Ceci disagreed gravely. "Nice view, lot of open space, clean… " Her eyes, and Dar's met and she hesitated, a teasing remark on her tongue she wasn't sure she should utter.

Dar's cool gaze gentled slightly. "What am I doing in here, right?" A hint of a smile warmed her features.

Ceci returned the smile. "Nah. I think you fit right in here." She disagreed. "I especially like the blue jeans - they go well with the teak paneling."

That got an actual chuckle out of Dar, who plucked at the denim fabric covering her knee. "It's not how I usually dress here." She admitted. "Wish it was. Those damn business suits drive me nuts."

Her mother studied the faded jeans and untucked cotton shirt Dar was wearing, the easiest things she could manage with her arm in a sling. "That strap's twisted." She gestured. "Want it fixed?"

For a moment, there was a flash of wary uncertainty in Dar's eyes. Ceci merely waited, wishing for the thousandth time she'd made some different choices years back. She was almost sure Dar would politely decline the offer, when her daughter shifted, and leaned forward slightly.

"Sure." Dar said. "Felt a little weird."

Ceci unbuckled the strap and straightened it, tucking the cotton fabric under Dar's collar and refastening the buckle. She had to move a bit of thick, dark hair out of the way to do so. "I always wondered what Andy would have looked like with long hair."

Dar slowly turned her head and both eyebrows arched almost to her hairline. "Dad?"

"Mm." Ceci nodded, giving Dar's shoulder a light pat. "There you go."

"I don't think he's ever had it even covering his ears, much less his neck." Dar relaxed a little, settling back in her chair as Ceci stepped away.

"Nope, he sure hasn't." Ceci shook her head. "But when he was your current age, his hair was just like yours, same texture and everything. I remember he let it grow..oh, all of two inches over one summer before he had it buzzed again." She studied Dar's angular face and smiled. "I can almost imagine it, now." It was nice, a wistful thought intruded, to be able to see her husband so clearly in their child, and have it not hurt.

She wondered if Dar realized that. They'd both changed so much it was hard to say what went on behind those very familiar eyes anymore. Ah well. "How's your shoulder doing?" Ceci changed the subject.

"Lousy." Dar answered, with surprising honesty. "Sorry I didn't mention it the other day."

"I'm not." Ceci replied, with equal honesty, seeing the quickly shuttered wariness in Dar's eyes. "Don't get me wrong, Dar. What happens to you matters to me, and I’m sorry you got hurt by that a…" She paused. "By Chuck, but we both know it was better for him and Andy for your father not to know."

"Mm." The door opened and Andrew reentered the room, carrying two cups. Dar and her mother exchanged glances, then Dar smiled "Thanks, mom. Glad I made the right choice."

Well. Ceci accepted the cup of coffee, feeling pleased, if a touch bemused by the reaction. I think that was almost a Kodak moment.

She liked it. Ceci moved off towards the window and studied the view, half listening to her husband and Dar talking about the base in the background.


 Dar had moved the strategy meeting into the big conference room down the hall from her office. Kerry had gotten in ahead of her, and clipped the network diagrams to the big presentation board, and now she watched as the operations team filed in and took seats.

Mark, of course, was in the lead, carrying the backpack Kerry knew held the big network analyzer and it's cables. He set it down on the floor and took a seat, as the rest of the group settled around him. Kerry's eyebrows rose as she recognized Brent among the group, but she refrained from commenting as Dar entered from the back door.

The JAG officer and Andrew were with her, and they took chairs near the other end of the conference table as Dar circled it and headed towards the podium. Ceci had seated herself near the window, and was watching quietly, her eyes flicking between the charts, her daughter, and occasionally, crossing gazes with Kerry herself.

"All right." Dar's low, vibrant voice cut through the quiet. She put a sheaf of papers on the podium and drew in a breath, letting her eyes run over her audience. Kerry could almost see the subtle shift as her lover assumed her professional demeanor, and she sharpened her own attention as she listened.

Even in casual clothing, and with her arm in it's white, cotton sling, Dar still managed to capture the room, the normal intensity of her attitude only lightly blunted by all the medication she was on. Kerry could tell it was an effort, though. There was a persistent crease in Dar's forehead, she was blinking more than usual, and there was an uncharacteristic slump to her posture that was easily visible to her watching partner.

"We've gotten an unusual request from the government." Dar started her speech. "As most of you know, we were contracted to perform detailed structure and performance analysis on a number of military bases."

The techs were glued to her every word. They nodded almost in concert, which almost made Dar laugh. "As part of that investigation, information was obtained detailing irregularities in their data, which could extend from minor theft to felonious activities."

Mark shook his head, and let out a sigh. "I was thinking that, boss. That stuff you sent down stank to hell."

Dar nodded. "With good reason." She turned to the whiteboard. "Normally, I'd have just turned this over to the government at this point." She spared a glance for the JAG man. "In fact, that's what was originally intended. However, due to logistics, they can't get a security team here for at least twenty four hours, and we have reason to think data destruction would occur before that time."

"Mark, we're going to need to put the scope in here." Dar ran a hand over the diagram. "The three critical mainframes are here, here, and here, and we'll need to pull the drive arrays from all three."

Mark was scribbling. "We just going to walk in there, DR?"

This was the tricky part. "No." Dar folded her hands on the podium. "Kerry and I are going in first." Heads all jerked her way. "The guards are used to seeing me, and they won't react." At least, you hope they won't. "Two of you are going to ride with us, and duck down in the back seat as we go through the gates."

"Check." Mark made a note. "How bout the rest of them?"

Dar felt a smile twitching at her lips at Mark's claim of his spot. "A volunteer who's familiar with the base is going to pay a visit. Everyone else will go with him."

"Them." Ceci muttered, just loud enough for Dar to hear her.

The techs all looked around, and finally spotted the two guests at the end of the table. "Oh, hey." Mark waved at Andy.

"Lo." Andrew drawled.

Kerry watched Brent's face, as he focused on the tall ex-seal, then returned his gaze straight ahead. She wondered what he was thinking.

"This is Captain Taylor, from the military justice department, and my father, Andrew Roberts." Dar introduced them succinctly. "My father's the volunteer who'll get the rest of you into the camp. He's very familiar with it." She let her eyes rove over the watching faces. "If either of them instruct any of you to do something, do it. " She paused. "Understand?"

"Gotcha, DR." Mark replied. "You guys all clear on that?"

The techs nodded.

"Good." Dar paused, then nodded. "Get moving. Don’t do anything stupid when you're out there. I don't want to be spending half the week doing paperwork on anyone. Got me?"

Another round of nodding.

"All right. That's all." Dar stepped back from the podium. Everyone stood and a low murmur of discussion started. Dar exhaled, and ran her fingers through her hair as Kerry crossed the room and came to her side. "Ready?"

"I've got all the equipment downstairs, ready to go." Kerry told her. "I brought the portable hundred gig array along, in case we need to transfer something we can't just take." She leaned forward. "And I picked up the black box, so you can run your code on it if you need to."

Dar considered that. "Good work." She said. "Thanks, Ker."

They followed the crowd out of the room and towards the elevator. Dar found herself between her father and Kerry as they entered the open car, and she leaned back against the mirrored wall aware of the warmth as they joined her. Slowly, she turned her had and regarded Kerry, who had folded her arms, and was gazing ahead of her. Then she turned and glanced at her father, who had adopted the same pose. The rest of the occupants of the elevator were studying the tiled floor with great interest.

Dar's brow creased. They were all acting a little weird., she thought, then realized it was probably due to the very odd circumstances. With a sigh, she let her head rest against the cool surface, and waited for the drop to end. The JAG Captain had been quiet, and reserved, and fairly well unhelpful, even after Dar had given him the cocaine brick.

He needed concrete proof, he'd said seriously. That brick could have come from anywhere, and the Chief could have just been looking to get someone in trouble. Which was true, Dar acknowledged, and the exact reason she was dragging her butt down to the upper Keys on a Saturday afternoon when she felt like crawling into bed and passing out.

A hand on her elbow almost made her jump, and she glanced up to see the doors open, and everyone else exiting. "Whoops.. sorry." She gave Kerry a smile. "I was just thinking."

Kerry glanced up at her, and returned the smile. "I could tell." She linked her arm inside Dar's and they continued across the lobby towards the front door. "How are you feeling?"

A little annoyed to be asked again. Dar almost retorted. "I'm fine." She replied. "Damn drugs are making me a little lightheaded, that's all." Deliberately putting more energy into her steps, she pulled free of Kerry's grip and stalked towards the entrance.

Kerry sighed. "Shit."

Andrew glanced at her. "Stubborn cuss, ain't she." He commiserated wryly.

Kerry looked at him. "Wonder where she gets it from." She answered, with equal wryness.

"Ah have no idea." Andrew said. "You better git moving fore she decides on driving."

Kerry sighed, and broke into a jog, ducking past the straggling techs as she tried to catch up with her partner.


Kerry waited until they were almost at the base before she slowed the pace of the Lexus, and glanced into the rearview mirror. She spotted Andrew a bit back, in Dar's car, and also caught the half asleep faces of Mark and Brent in the back seat.

It was very quiet in the car, she'd deliberately turned the stereo down to allow her passengers to relax and doze off if they wanted to. In fact, she encouraged them to do just that, knowing Dar would remain awake and alert if everyone else was just out of sheer cussedness.

But Mark had taken her hint, and loudly announced his intention to nap, poking Brent in the leg until the slightly slow on the uptake tech realized what he wanted and huddled down in his seat with a glum expression.

Then, of course, and only then had Dar allowed herself to relax, and slump against the doorframe, using a folded sweatshirt of Kerry's as an impromptu pillow as she closed her eyes and surrendered into a light doze.

Now, Kerry wished the trip was longer, but she reached over and gently touched Dar's thigh, squeezing it twice before she got a reaction. Dar's eyelids fluttered open, and she blinked, turning her head to peer at Kerry in confusion for a moment before her expression cleared, and she straightened in her seat.

"Okay, duck down, guys." Kerry said. "Just pull those comforters over you while I go through the gates." She turned into the base, and eased slowly down the approach road, pulling up next to the guard shack and leaning back a little so Dar could see the guard.

"Afternoon." Dar greeted the man. "Looks quiet."

The man came closer, then smiled. "Ms. Roberts… hey." He glanced around. "Didn't expect you here on the weekend."

Dar smiled back. "Got some little things to clear up." She said. "And my parents are coming down, just for old time's sake, to look around in the daytime."

The marine's eyes lit up. "Big Andy's coming in today? All right.. man, wait till the guys hear… you know they got a big old UD get together going on today, right?"

"No.. I didn't." Dar replied. "That'll be a damn nice surprise for him, though. Thanks for the word." She waved casually. "Gotta get to work."

The guard raised the gate and waved back. "Take it easy, Ms. Roberts."

Kerry drove into the parking lot. "Will that be a problem?" She asked. "That meeting or whatever?"

Dar was rubbing her eyes, and now she looked up. "Problem?" Her lips quirked. "I doubt it. This place'll be crawling with SEALS. This could be easier than we thought."

"Crawling with SEALS." Kerry parked, and set the brake. "Interesting visual, Dar, but how does it help us?"

Dar opened the door, and got out, stretching out her body as Mark joined her on the passenger side, and Kerry with Brent walked around the front of the Lexus. "It means we have friends here, Kerry." She felt better already. "The kind of friends you like to have when you're in a potentially dangerous situation."

Kerry consider that, as Mark removed the analyzer from the back of the car. "Unless some of them are involved." She commented, looking up to see ice cold blue eyes looking back at her. "Um. I mean.."

"Never." Dar said, low and forcefully. "Not these guys."

Kerry and Mark exchanged glances. "Okay." Kerry agreed softly. "You're the expert." She patted Dar's back. "Glad to hear that.. if they're all like dad, this'll be a piece of cake." Her eyes slid past Dar to meet Brent's, which darted off in another direction. "I feel better already."

"Brent, gimme a hand with this." Mark was kneeling next to the analyzer. "I need to fit the wiring harness."

Brent walked over and they fussed over the equipment, leaving Dar and Kerry standing a little apart as they waited. Dar glanced around, then exhaled, and ducked her head a bit. "I know I’m being a bitch. Sorry."

"Were you?" Kerry asked mildly. "I hadn't noticed."

Their eyes met. "Liar." Dar managed a smile.

Kerry shrugged slightly. "It's all right." She forced herself not to think about the churning in her guts. Suddenly, she found her shoulders circled by Dar's arm, and her senses were barraged by the abrupt closeness and warmth as Dar pulled her close in a hug. A voice whispered into her ear, and it took her long seconds to acknowledge the words.

"If I get too obnoxious, slap me."

Kerry felt some of the tension seep out f her, as she circled Dar's waist with an arm and squeezed. "All right, I will." She promised, releasing her and swatting her lightly in the butt. "Right there. Deal?"

"Deal." Dar let go of her as Mark and Brent came around the side of the car again, carrying the equipment. "Soon as the others get here, we move."

A fusillade of gunshots made them all jump. "Holy shit." Mark backed against the car. "Is that for us?"


"War games." Dar peered over the hood of the Lexus. "We got lucky again."

"Lucky?" Kerry winced, as she heard an echoing boom. She edged a little closer to Dar, and peered behind her where Andrew was just haphazardly parking her car's larger cousin. It was still overcast, and the air was thick with moisture. She sniffed at the wind. And thick with what smelled like gunpowder. "Those aren't real bullets, are they?"

"Sure." Dar replied. "But don't worry. Everyone will be participating, or watching, or keeping the hell out of the way. We can get in, and get out, and not attract attention." Unanticipated, but Dar wasn't a person who argued with good luck when it happened to thump down on top of her head. Things had been strained enough lately, a little smooth sailing was definitely called for.

"Ah." Kerry frowned. "Well, as long as we stay inside. I’m allergic to bullets." A group chorus of deep, male chanting carried over. "Mm.. way too mucho macho for moi,"

The rest of the group came over and gathered around them. "All right." Dar spoke. "We're heading for the administration building, over there. It should be pretty much empty. " She glanced around, seeing that most of the area, in fact, was pretty much empty.

Kerry shouldered one of the portable scopes. "I'll take Mark to the telecom center." She offered. "I remember where it is, and I've got my badge, still." She displayed it. "He can hook up there and control the network."

Mark looked up. "Brent, you and Josh come with us. Bring that cable kit, willya?"

Dar nodded. "Okay . the rest of you come with me to the computer center. Bring that array and the black box." She said. "Dad, go along with Kerry. She's headed towards the ops center, and there might be people around."

Andrew regarded her thoughtfully. "All right." He drawled, after a moment.

"If anyone questions you." Dar told them seriously. "Just tell them you're doing your job, and refer them to me, understand?" She made eye contact with the techs. "Don't act like you're not supposed to be here, got it?"

"Got it." Mark assured her.

"Captain, you come with me." Dar squared her shoulders and started to lead them towards the building.

The group sorted themselves out and followed her. Dar took the few moments of peace to run her plan through her mind again, checking the details, and making sure she knew what she was going to do once they got to the computer center. After a few strides, she realized she had diminutive shadow. "Thought you'd go with dad."

Ceci rubbed the side of her nose. She and Andrew really hadn't talked about what they were going to do once they'd gotten to the base, but after Dar had told him to go with Kerry, it had seemed only natural that she… What in the hell are you talking about, Cecilia? This isn't natural for you in any wayl! "Well." Ceci glanced around. "I just figured if you ran into any trouble, I'd just tell them that I’m your mother, and I said it was all right."

Dar's eyes perceptibly widened and went round. She gave the two techs a startled look, grateful they hadn't heard.

Or, at least, they were pretending very hard not to have heard. "W.. what?" She lowered her voice.

Ceci smothered a grin, and shrugged. "It always worked when you were a kid." She explained soberly. "Those marines usually recognized my authority a lot faster than their CO's."

Dar felt a blush coming on, and she hoped her employees wouldn't notice. Having her mother along wasn't something she'd figured into her battle plans. She sighed. Not that Ceci wasn't right, she grudgingly admitted, remembering many a time where only her mother's intervention had saved her from fates worse than death.

Like cleaning the recruits latrine. Dar felt her nose wrinkle in remembered disgust. "Good point." She finally spoke aloud. "Maybe you better write me up an admin pass while you're at it."

They climbed the stairs, and one of the techs scurried forward and opened the door, holding it courteously as the rest of them approached. Dar paused, resting a hand on the doorsill, and looked around.

No Marine. She wondered about that. Hadn't there always been a guard at this door? It seemed very quiet, though, and after a moment she shook her head and continued inside the building. It's been years, Dar. They could have changed a procedure or two.

The door closed behind them, it's metal lock clicking home with an exaggerated sound that echoed slightly in the empty hall.


Kerry walked next to Andrew, one hand nervously running up and down on the strap of the scope she carried. So far, they hadn't seen anyone on their walk to the telecom center, and she was trying to decide if that was good, or if would be better for them to meet the first potential objector, instead of anticipating it.

Not that she was all that worried, not with Andy strolling beside her, his long and somewhat rolling stride making her lengthen her own steps a little to keep up. She had no doubt her father in law could handle whatever uniformed minion got in their path, but still.

She looked around. It was creepy. "Is it usually this quiet?" She finally voiced her worry aloud, seeing from Marks' quick look he'd been thinking the same thing. "I remember it being a lot busier the last time I was here."

Andrew regarded the hallway, then turned and walked backwards for a few steps, his pale eyes flicking over every inch of the painted wooden walls and the studiously polished tile floors. He reverse himself again and continued forward. "Well." He paused. "Admin's usually emptier than a sack of sand with a wet bottom on the weekend."

"Kinda like our office." Mark supplied.

"Yeap." The ex seal agreed. "Usually a body or two more round thereabouts, though." He glanced down an offshoot corridor. "Figure everyone's out watching the pups."

"Pups?" Mark asked.

Brent, walking beside him, was listening intently but pretending not to. He hadn't said a word since they'd left the office, and Kerry found herself wondering again why he was there. She glanced at the shorter man's face, and just then he looked up, and their eyes met. It only lasted an instant, then Brent jerked his head forward.

Kerry had felt the icy coldness behind his eyes, though, and she drew in a faintly unsteady breath.

"Got a couple of new SEAL teams goin through some situations." Andrew said. "That's what 's all going on outside."

The door to the telecom room loomed up, and Kerry tried the latch. She was surprised to find it open, and she looked over her shoulder at Andrew in question. "That's pretty careless."

Andrew grunted, and held the door open as the techs passed inside. "Y'all gwan in there. I'll be right back." He let the door close, then turned, and just stood for a moment in the hallway.



They found their first two navy personnel inside the computer center. Dar pushed the door open and stuck her head inside, giving the two console operators a nod as they looked up in surprise. "Afternoon."

One had been on duty the day she and the Chief had tangled, and that one stood up as Dar entered. "Ms. Roberts…"

Dar held a hand up. "We're just collecting some data." She waved the woman back to her seat. "Relax."

"B…" The woman protested.

"You're not going to ask me for authorization, are you?" Dar swiveled, and gave her a patented glare.

"No, ma'am, I’m not, but.."

"Great." Dar continued towards the console and sat down in front of it, eyeing her arm in irritation.

The console operator opened her mouth, then closed it, and gave her companion a little shrug. The male sailor also shrugged, and shook his head.

Dar leaned on the console, and scanned the screen. "Hook that up to the aux port." She absently directed the shorter tech, a young man with curly red hair and russet freckles sprinkled over half his face. "I want it direct."

"Yes, ma’am." The tech replied quietly. "We do have the net direct card in it."

"I know." Dar hunted and pecked, scowling. "I don’t want it addressable." She answered, cursing silently at the length of time it was taking her to set up the program she wanted. After a moment more, she gave up and unhooked the sling holding her arm close to her body, and removed it, laying it over her thigh.

Ow. Whether from lack of use, or her injury it was hard to tell, but her muscles were screaming as she flexed her injured arm. Dar grimaced, but kept up the motion, finally laying her forearm down on the console and using both hands to type. Ow, ow ow. Son of a… A glance up at her reflection in the screen showed a tense, drawn face looking back, and she paused, taking a deep breath and releasing it, trying to will the pain away.

Stupid damn arm. Her mind muttered in disgust. Stupid damn Chuck, and his stupid damn bat and his stupid parochial macho ego. The jolts of pain went down her shoulder and all the way into her fingers, so intense it almost made her sneeze.

It was hard to keep her mind focused, with all that. She had to retype the same line twice, then reenter a parameter, before she finally had things set up the way she wanted them. It was a simple program, really – just a looping bit of code that would transfer the contents of the base’s main system to her storage box sector by sector – at a machine level that would not allow for any interference in the copying from any high level security that might be running. Sort of like copying the encoded digital signal from a CD, rather than recording the sound as it was produced. She hoped that would protect the integrity of the data – any attempt at a simple copy could trigger god only knows what if someone who really knew what they were doing and had protection in place. Dar was surprised, actually, that her previous intrusions hadn’t been detected and objected to – she’d figured that either meant whoever was doing this wasn’t as good as she was… or the person was a lot better.

Dar sighed, and hit enter. She wished she knew which it was, remembering a time when considering anyone to be ‘better’ was an alien thought to her. Another sigh. God, she’d been such a cocky son of a bitch.

She moved slightly, and a shot of pain made her suck in her breath and hold it, her eyes blinking away the sudden tears. The painkillers she’d taken before they’d left were wearing off, Dar realized. Shit.

C’mon, Dar. You used to just work past this, remember? For a moment, she just closed her eyes, and concentrated, allowing the ache to become something she could handle, and put into the background of her conscious mind. It took a little longer than it used to, but after a bit she was able to start breathing normally, and let her eyes open, focusing on the screen and the task before her.

Okay. I can do this. Her mind cleared, and she started typing again. Logic strings emerged grumpily from long unused memory cells, but it only took two or three tries before she had a relatively working loop going. "Okay." She glanced at the tech kneeling nearby. "Ready?"

The redhead looked up at her confidently. "Ready, ma’am."

Dar hit the enter button. For a moment, she thought she’d screwed up the program, then the screen flickered, and started scrolling a hexadecimal display with commendable obedience. Whew.

"Wow." The tech watched, evidently impressed. "You did that on the fly?"

Dar shrugged modestly. She was aware of the navy console operators watching over her shoulder with interest. One whistled under their breath. Dar rested her chin on her hand, and wished herself elsewhere.

"Scuse me." Ceci’s voice came closer. "Here." The older woman put something down on the console, then rested a hesitant hand on Dar’s shoulder. "They were out of Evian."

Dar eyed the cute container of MacArthur Dairy chocolate milk and found herself smiling. God, her mother had always hated her constant consumption of this stuff. "Guess I didn’t turn into a chocolate cow after all, huh?"

"No." Ceci said. "All those sleepless nights worrying about you keeling over from scurvy, wasted."

Dar half turned and glanced up. "Did you? Really worry about that?"

Ceci studied her daughter’s tense face. "Yeah." She admitted quietly. "I worried about you all the time, for a lot of reasons." She paused. "I guess I shouldn’t have."

Dar thought about that. Then she shrugged a little. "Maybe it’s a mother thing."

One pale eyebrow lifted. "It sort of grows on you after a while." Ceci said. "Surprises the hell out of me sometimes."

Dar grinned slightly. "I bet."

Her mother chuckled, with a hint of wry humor. "I’ve got some ibuprofan. Interested?"

Dar nodded in thinly disguised relief. "Thanks." She accepted the handful of small pills, and opened her milk, washing down the painkillers and drinking the cold, sweet liquid with a feeling of pure relief. The program was running, transferring the information to her secured storage at a very good rate, she had aspirin, she had chocolate milk.. things were looking up.

The only thing she was missing at the moment was..

"Dar." Kerry’s voice made her look up and spot her lover coming in the door. "Mark’s having trouble syncing the circuit. He wants to know if you know anything odd about the data rate."

Ah. Dar leaned on the console and regarded the blond woman. Kerry’s brows were creased, and her pale hair was messed, apparently from her running her hands through it. Definitely a sign of her lover being a little distraught. "Nothing concrete. He want me to go take a look?"

Kerry came up to her and leaned on the console, peeking at the screen before answering. "He didn’t say that, just wanted to know if you had any hints."

One of Dar’s eyebrows lifted. "He couldn’t just call and ask?"

"Um." Kerry fiddled with a button on her shirt, then peeked up from under pale lashes. "He didn’t want to chance the cell?"

"Uh huh. And he had to send you to ask?"

Kerry’s lips tensed, masking a smile. "I volunteered."

Ah. Dar felt an absurd contentedness. Kerry had come to check up on her. Mom was bringing her milk. Next thing she knew, she’d be in a rocker with someone putting a shawl over her shoulders. "Tell him to try an extended packet size on tcp/ip – look for an added four byte segment."

"Oh." Kerry got up. "Okay, I’ll go tell him Thanks, Dar." She started for the door, but paused as she heard Dar get up to follow her. They walked together past the consoles, and edged out into the hallway.

"Everything else going all right?" Dar asked, in a low voice. "We’ve got the transfer going here, Ker. I estimate another twenty minutes, and we’ll be done."

Kerry looked up and down the hallway. "I don’t know. This place is giving me the creeps today, Dar. Dad went off a little while ago, and he hasn’t come back yet. It’s just too quiet."

"Yeah." Dar exhaled. Okay, so maybe she didn’t come to check on me. "Maybe he’s just scoping the place out. He knows his way around, and he can take care of himself, so there’s no point in worrying about that."

"Hm." Kerry folded her arms. "Any sign of that petty person?"

"No." Dar stated. "No sign of just about anyone, except for the two console ops in there. Everyone else must be watching the war games."

"Mm." Kerry murmured again under her breath. "You okay?" She finally asked. "You took your sling off."

"Had to type." Dar explained. "I’m all right. It’s just sore."

Kerry once again looked up and down the hallway, then she leaned foreword and very gently kissed Dar’s injured shoulder. "Be careful." One hand lifted, and rubbed Dar’s belly. "I worry about you."

And then she turned and strode back down the hallway, the twitch of her shoulders indicating her awareness of Dar’s watching eyes.

Which weren’t precisely on her shoulders, despite the situation and the ache in her arm, and the worries that were now running through her mind. Boy. Dar couldn’t help the observation. She’s got a sexy walk. It had a little swagger to it, a gentle roll to her hips and a muscular strength that Dar found very, very attractive. She watched her lover until she turned a corner at the far end of the corridor, then she sighed, and returned to the ops center.

"Ms. Roberts?" The console operator stepped into her path. "Are you part of this exercise, ma’am? I was just wondering… we weren’t told to expect you, and Dave and I figured you got stuck in just for a challenge. Are we right?"

Exercise? Dar stopped, and eyed her warily. "Are you talking about the war games?"

The navy tech exchanged glances with her partner. "It’s not a war game, really. It’s a security drill." She replied. "You mean you didn’t know?"

"Security drill? They told us it was a SEAL exercise at the gate." Dar stated. "Graduation for some new teams."

The sailor named Dave got up and trotted over. "Well, yeah, but they’re graduating from the urban warfare school." He explained eagerly. "They’ve got to counteract a terrorist infiltration of a critical operations center."

"Crit… " Dar glanced around. "You mean here? This is the target?"

The woman tech nodded. "Yeah, we were expecting the terrorists.. we thought you were them when you came in, but then we fi.."

The door slammed open with a loud bang, and the room was suddenly filling with grungy looking men in green and brown fatigues. "Don’t move! Don’t move!" The one in the lead screamed, brandishing an M16. "Get back against the wall, you pigs!"

Dar felt the situation explode out of control with frightening speed. Two of them men rushed at her and grabbed her arms, causing her to let out a startled yell of anger and pain. "Cut that out!"

The man on her left slammed her against the wall and leaned against her. "Shut up! Shut up or we’ll kill you!"

Dar struggled out of pure panicked instinct, wrenching her body around and shoving off from the wall, throwing her surprised attackers back as she twisted, ignoring the pain. One grabbed for her again and she swiveled, lashing out with a kick that caught him in the gut as she tried to move away from the second one.

Something exploded against her head, and she was barely aware of slamming against the wall, as her knees buckled, and darkness quickly overcame the stars in her vision. She was unconscious before she hit the ground.


Kerry was aware of every creak of wood, and every scuff of her boots against the tiled floor as she walked down the hallway. The atmosphere was getting creepier and creepier every second, and she had to keep herself from looking around nervously as she walked.

C’mon, Kerry. She finally told herself in irritation. Stop acting like a terrorist is going to jump out of every doorway.

As she passed the next one, a shadow shifted, and suddenly engulfed her. Kerry reacted by letting out a yell, which was half muffled as a hand clapped itself over her mouth and strong hands grabbed her.

"Hey.. hey… kumquat… relax." Andrew’s voice almost made her go completely limp. "Stop that hollerin, willya?" Cautiously, the ex-SEAL released his hold and looked anxiously at her. "You aint’ hurt, are you?"

"No." Kerry leaned against him in relief. "Sorry – this place is just making me nuts. Where’ve you been?"

Andy awkwardly patted her back. "Just checking things. Somethin ain’t right here. Saturday’s quiet, but not like this is."

"So I’m not just imagining things?" Kerry said. "Okay, let me go tell Mark what Dar said to do, then we can come back here and see if we don’t want to just cut this all short." Kerry started down the hall, with Andrew ambling along beside her with his loose, powerful stride. "What do you think is going on?"

"Ah do not know." Andrew’s head was swiveling back and forth, watching everything. "Haven’t found anybody t’ask." He glanced at her. "Dardar all right?"

Kerry looked behind her. "I think so." She answered. "She seems okay. Tired, though. I think her arm's hurting."

"Aw." Andrew patted her shoulder. "She's a tough kid. Don't you worry."

"That's true." Kerry sighed. "I just wish this was over… hey!" She found herself suddenly grabbed, and yanked back into a doorway, with a large, warm hand covering her mouth.

"Hush." Andrew barely whispered. "Don't you move none."

Kerry nodded in understanding, and stayed perfectly still. The doorway they were standing in was dark, and she could almost feel the shadows reaching around her, but she couldn't hear anything, and she wondered what, exactly, they were hiding from.

Then she saw the soft, gray, almost indistinguishable reflection on the tile floor, inching towards the gap where the door met the hallway. She strained her ears, but she still couldn't hear anything, though she could see that tiny shadow moving closer and closer. Puzzled, she looked up at Andrew's face, able to see only the utter stillness there, save the faint flaring of his nostrils.

The shadow slipped closer and closer, and Kerry felt her breathing increase. She glued her eyes to the edge of the doorway, and almost jumped when the edge of a rifle barrel cut the straight line. Oh, my god. Kerry clamped her jaw shut so her teeth wouldn't chatter. She felt Andy's body shift behind her, and sensed the tension that came into the arms he had wrapped loosely about her.

The barrel moved forward, further away from the door than she first thought, and now the hands and body of it's wielder came into view. It was a young man, of medium height, dressed in fatigues, his eyes flicking nervously up and down the hallway.

Surely, Kerry's mind screamed, surely he'd look right at her.

But he didn't. He kept going, and before she could relax, another man edged into view, moving with careful silence. This man was taller and thinner, and had a scruffy beard. Then more of them moved past, six or seven in all, Kerry had lost count before the last one, a huge bear of a man, crept past. They were wearing backpacks, and their clothes had a well used air about them. Kerry's nose twitched, as the scent of gun oil came to her.

Andrew waited almost an entire minute before he eased past Kerry, and very slowly edged his head around the doorway. Then he relaxed, and scowled. "What in hell's that all about?"

"I don't know, but it was seriously creepy." Kerry told him, peering down the now empty hallway. "Hey.. maybe they're Cuban terrorists!"

Andy allowed a tiny snort of laughter to emerge. "Not hardly." He said. "C'mon, kumquat… let's get us back to that there closet. I figger we'll find out what's up soon enough."

Ain't that the truth. Kerry shook her head, and they started down the hallway. She'd taken maybe ten paces, before she stopped dead, a fist clenching her heart. "Oh." A sense of panic filled her, and she turned, evading Andrew's outstretched hand as she launched into a headlong run.


There was a moment’s frozen silence. Then the lead terrorist pulled the wool mask off his face. "Shit." He panted hoarsely. "It’s a civ!"

Ceci, frozen in shock for several long heartbeats, now surged into motion. She ducked between two of the men and shoved a third out of the way. "You stupid pig headed son of a bitch clueless useless excuse for jarhead buttholes." She dropped to her knees beside Dar’s very still, slumped figure. "I should pull your damn privates off." Anxiously, she touched her daughter’s face, which was pale and relaxed.

"Shit." The lead terrorist said. "What do we do, Sarge?"

The second man who had come in fingered his rifle. "Just stay where you are. We’ve got our orders."

"What?" The man who’d taken his mask off objected. "Are you crazy? This ain’t part of the orders.. this is a fucking civ!"

"You don’t know that." The sergeant snapped back. "What if they are? They could be part of the gig, you know that. They said there’d be something unexpected… this is it. So shut up and just go over there." He turned and looked at the rest of the room. "You all just sit your asses still, and keep your mouths shut."

"Dar?" Ceci patted Dar’s cheek gently. "Hey, Dardar?" The pet name felt strange on her lips, but she ignored that. "C’mon, kid – open your eyes, hmm?"

For a far too long instant there was no response. Ceci patted Dar’s cheek again, and this time her daughter’s eyelids fluttered in reaction, sliding half open to expose dazed pale blue orbs. Ceci found herself babbling in near panic, much to her consternation. "Hey, munchkin, c’mon – you okay?" The eyes tracked to her and fastened on her face, then blinked and opened a little further. "Dar?"

"Urmf." It felt like a building had fallen in on top of her. She just wanted to let her eyes close, and go back to sleep. It was quieter there, and it hurt a hell of a lot less. But someone was shaking her, and she had a sneaking suspicion it was her mother, who would just keep on shaking.

Always had.

"Okay." Dar fended off the prodding. "Okay.. okay.. I'm awake… Jesus…" She squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them fully, blinking until her mother came fuzzily into focus. Her face was suddenly cupped between Ceci's hands, and she could feel the tremor in them. A faint, but distinct feeling of surprise filtered through her admittedly half conscious mind.

"Here, see if you can sit up." Ceci urged. "I think the brainless wood chip back there just clipped you."

The terrorists were nervously deploying around the room, and had herded the two console operators over in the corner where Dar and Ceci were. They hadn't seen Dar's two techs yet, who were prudently hiding behind the large, twin drive arrays Dar had been transferring data from.

Okay. Dar managed to get upright, and took stock of herself and the situation. Her head hurt like hell. Her arm hurt worse. Her dignity was screaming in mortal agony. Her mother, for God's sake, was petting her like a kitten.

Jesus! What the hell could happen next?

A wild yell punctured the room, and the door was flung open. The terrorists whirled, and brought their guns up, screaming warnings as a disheveled blond figure stumbled into the room, looking around frantically. The man closest to the door leaped at her, only to be intercepted by a tall, menacing shadow that grabbed him, disarmed him, and tossed him against the wall in one long, sweeping motion.

"Awright." Andrew's voice boomed out. "Ya'll stay still, or figgure yourself swiss cheese." He cocked the big, black shotgun the man had been carrying with a solid, scary sound, then lifted it and aimed it at the biggest guy there, a man half again his weight but about the same height as he was.

"Dar!" Kerry bolted for her.

Oh. Dar's tired mind sighed. That's what could happen next. Do yourself a favor, Dar. Don't imagine anything else.


"Tell me again what this all is?" Andy stood, with his hands on his hips, glaring at the hapless leader of the 'terrorists.' "Them people out there sent you all in here?"

"Look, sir." The bear-like soldier had both hands empty, and held out in abject defense. "It's the training exercise. They told us to come in here, and take hostages." He looked around. "We came in here and took hostages.. they weren't supposed to fight back."

Andrew's eyes narrowed. "You saying it was my kid's fault she got hurt?" His voice lowered in pitch.

", sir." The soldier shook his head. "I’m saying we got surprised, and Niles over there got kicked in a place that really needs ice, if you know what I mean."

Andrew threw a glance at the tallest soldier, who grimaced, and crossed his legs gingerly. "What comes next?" He asked, though he had a pretty good idea. "Them youngsters outside come git you?"

The man nodded. "We're assigned to hold them off. I've got explosives, and extra ammo in those packs. We're supposed to blockade the room, and maintain a defensive perimeter." He hesitated. "Sir, they told us they were going to throw in some unexpected things. I thought… " He glanced over to where the rest of the 'hostages' were seated. "I thought they were part of it. "

"Uh huh." Andrew gave him a very disapproving glare. "Wall, I’m fixing to end this here exercise right quick. Don’t' you go nowhere." He shouldered the shotgun and turned towards the door, only pausing when he heard Dar's cell phone ring. "Now what?"

"I"ll get that." Kerry slid the phone out of it's holder, clipped at Dar's waist, and opened it. "Yes?"

I can answer my own phone. Dar protested, but the words never emerged, and she was content merely to listen. It was easier to think that way.

"Mark.. Mark.. wait… slow down." Kerry's voice sharpened, and took on urgency. "Hold on.. ho.. what?"

"Give me that." Dar took the phone from her and listened to the chaotic sounds from the other side. "MARK!!!!" She let out a yell. The chaos continued, then subsided.

"Boss.. boss.. this place is going nuts. We gotta get outta here." Mark yammered. "Some half ass whackos came into that comm center and trashed it! We hid in the punch down closet." His voice went muffled. "Get down.. Brent, you fucking jerk, get your fucking head down before I kick it off!"

Ah. Dar took a breath. He's learning my management style. "Mark, calm down. Were these military guys? They've got some wargame crap going on in here."

"I don't know what the fuck they were." Mark sounded unusually panicked. "They had guns, Dar. They fucking shot the Ethernet hub."

Dar frowned, and glanced up at Andrew, who had crossed over to kneel at her side. "Are they supposed to be firing live rounds?"

"Hell no." Andrew removed a shotgun shell from the gun he was carrying, and showed it to her. "Dummies."

"Can dummies blow holes in electronic equipment?"

"No way." The terrorist leader had also come over. "We're not supposed to break anything, in fact, my CO told me if I dented any of these machines, he'd take em out of my paycheck for the next twenty years."

What the hell was going on. "Mark, stay right where you are." Dar ordered into the phone. "Don’t take any chances. If those idiots are shooting real bullets, you three stay put until we figure out what the deal is."

"Good idea." Andrew nodded.

"Yeah." The terrorist scratched his jaw, and agreed.

There was a scuffle, then the sound of a slamming door, and it got more or less quiet. "Okay." Mark panted. "We're in here, but let me tell you, boss - I'm bucking for a bonus after this."

Dar let her breath out with a soft grunt. "You'll get it." She folded the phone and let it drop onto her thigh, as her eyes lifted to Andrew's. "Dad, what the hell is this?"

"Maybe it's a mistake." The terrorist leader offered. "I don't think they really shot anything up, ma'am."

Kerry shook her head. "No, the man on the other end of that phone isn't someone who makes things up or panics for no reason." She disagreed, putting a hand on Dar's forearm. "If he says they were shooting, they were."

Ceci cleared her throat. "Does that mean they're coming here next?"

Everyone exchanged glances. "Well." The burly terrorist hesitated. "We're their target, so yeah, I guess."

"If they're shooting real bullets, that could be a problem."

Andrew scrubbed a hand across his face. "Lord." He sighed. "Ain't this a mess. I think we'd better all just get on out of here, Dardar. Pick up your gear and let's move." He touched Dar's lower leg. "Need to get you back to where Dr. Steve can take a peek at that skull."

Dar had to admit that was probably a good idea. The spot she'd been hit in felt hot, and swollen, and it ached. Kerry had found a large bruise spreading down her neck, and with everything else that had happened, even Dar couldn't argue with being on the safe side. "Okay." She glanced at her redheaded tech. "Is that download done?" Doug, his name was, if she recalled.

 "Almost." Doug replied.

"Dar, forget it." Kerry urged gently. "Let's just get out of here. It's not worth risking you." She could see the unevenly dialating pupils in Dar's eyes, and guessed she had a concussion. It was all too much, and she found their jobs counting for less and less as each minute went on. "C'mon."

For a moment, she thought Dar was going to refuse. The blue eyes studied her face quietly, searching it intently before Kerry saw the surrender, then the faint nod of agreement. Dar handed her the cell phone. "I'll tell Mark to sneak out and meet us in the parking lot."

Ceci stood up and let Andrew get around next to Dar, gently helping her up. She had put the sling back on her daughter's arm with surprisingly little resistance, and now Dar accepted Andy's assistance with the same silent gratitude.

Frankly, that scared the poo out of Ceci. The only time she'd ever seen Dar meekly submitting to this kind of babying was when she'd been really, really hurt. That broken leg, she recalled, was the last time, when the sixteen year old Dar had huddled in Andy's arms, trying very hard not to cry as he carried her into the hospital.

Leaving, she decided, was a very good idea. "All right, let's go." She started to lead the way towards the door, when it was abruptly thrust inward, and Chief Daniel entered, slamming it behind her. "Ah."

"I knew I shouldn't have trusted you." Daniel pointed at Dar, so angry she was almost spitting. "Went right to your buddy and told him, didn't you?"

Dar stared at her. "No. We didn't tell anyone here." She glanced over to where the JAG officer had been crouched, then realized he was gone. "Wh…"

"Someone did." The Chief spat. "Cause they're coming through this place and wrecking everything they can get their hands on." She turned and looked at the terrorists. "You better get your asses out of here, because they're on the way. Unless you want to end up looking like hamburger, get lost."

They heard a crunching sound, from not far away.

"Too late fer that." Andrew stated quietly. "Looks like we got us a problem."


"Should we call the cops?" Ceci watched the men in fatigues move cabinets in front of the door. "Andy, this is getting out of hand." She was standing behind Dar, who was seated again at the console, laborously pecking at the keyboard with a single index finger.

"Don't got time." Her husband replied, as he hopped up onto a desk, and peered out through the glass panels that topped the wall separating them from the hallway. "Cops gotta come down from Largo anyhow, they get a lick of traffic, might as well ferget it."

"So, what are we doing?" Ceci knew she sounded nervous, but the loud noises of destruction were coming closer, and she had a lot of things to worry about in the room. Andy for one, who tended to believe in his own indestructibility.

"Specting us to hold em off, so that's what were gonna do." Andrew replied. "Give em nough trouble to make em run off somewheres else."

Chief Daniel snorted. "This is where they want to be." She pointed at the mainframes. "They won't leave those standing."

The leader of the terrorist SEALS glanced between Andy and the Chief, obviously confused. "Ma'am, just what the hell's going on here?"

"You don't want to know." The Chief told him point blank. "Because if you did, you'd have to spend the next ten years in some admin's office doing paperwork on it, got me?" She looked around the room, and shook her head. "We can't hold this place."

"Sure we can." Andy disagreed. "Just need us some unconventional ammo, that's all." He looked over to see Kerry crouched next to Dar, ostensibly watching the screen, but with her attention obviously focused on her injured friend. "What you got in them guns, paint?"

The lead terrorist nodded, then jumped as they heard the distinct sound of bodies thumping against the wall in the hallway. "Here they come."

"All right." Andrew pointed. "Ceci, get down behind that there cabinet, take the kids with you."

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances, then looked at Ceci. "Kids?" Kerry objected, but got up to move anyway. "Come on, Dar."

"In a minute." Dar replied absently, typing in a final command. "This is almost done."

"Dar." Kerry heard the crackle of a megaphone outside. "Now, please?" She tugged very gently on her lover's uninjured arm.

"You there inside." A voice boomed out. "We know you've got hostages. If you know what's good for you, let them go."

Dar reluctantly got up and joined Kerry and her mother behind the big computer consoles, where Doug and his co worker were also crouched. She took out her cell phone and opened it, redialing Mark's number.

"You stay where you are, or these guys get it." The terrorist leader recited dutifully. "I got women in here, and I"ll waste em."

Andrew gave him a look.

"That's what they told us to say, sir." The man rumbled apologetically. He deployed his men to either side of the doorway, and told them to keep down. "They're going by the plan too, you sure this isn't just part of the exercise?"

At that instant, the lights went off. A thick, dark silence fell over the room, as the air conditioning stopped, and the computers shut down in a sad, dying whirr of fans.

"Note to self." Dar's voice cut through the gloom. "Recommend independent UPS systems."

"Jesus." Kerry whispered.

"Doug, disconnect the box, and pull it over towards me." Dar said quietly.

"Yes, ma'am."

Andrew blinked, then blinked again to see if that would help him see anything in the darkened room. No such luck. His mind ran through the possibilities, and didn't much like any of them. "Figure they're gonna toss something through them there winders next." He muttered.

"Gas? Yeah." The terrorist leader agreed softly. "We got masks."

"Not enough of em." Andy let his eyes close as he stood up. "Stay here. You hear something, get down."

"Yes, sir."

Doug crept across the tile floor, dragging the big box. "Okay, here it is, ma'am."

Dar felt the equipment, making sure the cover was tightly on, and the back ports were secured. She thought a minute, then felt around her until her hand touched a box of fanfold paper intended for the big lineprinter nearby.

As is always the case with computer paper, it was nearly empty. Dar inverted it, and slid it down over her black box. Then she sat down comfortably on top of it, and exhaled. "Okay. Whatever happens, keep your heads down, and don't move."

In the darkness, she felt Kerry nestle closer to her, pressing their bodies together, and sliding a hand to curl around Dar's thigh.

"You've got one chance to come out." The voice boomed.

Dar heard a slithering sound nearby, and something that sounded like dead fish being slapped on a dock. "Dad?"

"Hush." Andrew's voice echoed softly. "Just you stay down."

"We are." Kerry whispered back. "What are you doing?"

"Never you mind, kumquat. Just stay put, and keep yer head low."

"I’m warning you!" Their terrorist called. "You do anything, I start shooting in here, and I won't care what I hit!" A few whispered orders followed, and the shuffling, very faint, of booted feet. "We got gas masks, so don't bother trying anything, not unless you want these hostages gassed!"

"Didn't know they were selecting them for intelligence this year." Ceci muttered, under her breath. "Nice."

"Mom." Dar bit back a smile, invisible as it was.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, they only pick SEALS who are smart enough to save the team's asses."

"Don't none of you be standing fore that door there." Andrew rumbled softly.

The SEAL team leader stepped a pace closer. "You sure this isn't just reg stuff, sir? They're going right by the plan so far."

"Ah don't know." Andy replied. "But I am not taking chances with mah wife, and my kids in here. Them folks had best hope they come in with them little paint balls and a lot of hollerin, and not with anything worse, or it's gonna get messy."

A loud thump was heard. Then there was silence. Everyone waited, now sweating in the motionless air.

Then everything happened at once. The top windows blew in, and hard, round things entered, bouncing off surfaces with wild abandon. That was followed by a very strange noise, like an over shaken soda can being popped.

A acrid smell began to fill the room, then stopped as an indescribable noise started, and the stink was replaced with a second overwhelming scent, this one chemical.

Dar wrapped her good arm around Kerry and ducked her head, as popping noises started, and a crash came from the front door. She could sense things happening around her, but the sounds didn't evoke any logic, and the smell of smoke and sweat, and chemical made her queasy.

Now men were yelling. The attacking SEALS poured in the door, and the explosive sound of guns firing filled the room. Tiny red tracers raced everywhere, dotting the walls and floor, then the yells turned to hollering, as the odd noise returned, along with a loud whoop Dar recognized as her father.

"What in the hell is he doing?" Dar hissed to Ceci.

"You're asking ME????" Her mother hissed back. "You're the one who checked out the entire Jane's Weapons series from the library, remember?"

"Son of a bitch!!!" A yell rose up. "What the fuck!"

Now the noise sounded more like cattle being herded into a pen, one filled with jello. Dar could hear bodies colliding, and the chemical smell became almost overwhelming. Then she heard something behind them.

Boots. Shuffling.

The cocking of a shotgun. Instinctively, Dar grabbed hold of Ceci, and Kerry and pulled them all down to the floor, ignoring the pain in her arm as the world exploded behind her. She felt the shudder in the equipment they were leaning against, then heard a grunt, another cocking, , and pressed her body against the floor.

Another shot. Pieces of plastic showered over them. The shouting continued on the other side of the room.

A red tracer danced lazily through the blackness.

Dar watched, in stunned disbelief, as it traveled over her chest, and stopped. For a second, all she could hear was her own heartbeat, turned into a thunder as her mind realized what was happening.

The shotgun cocked.

"Dad!!!" Dar let out a yell, knowing if she moved, she'd expose Kerry and her mother.

She closed her eyes.

Then there was a thud, and a curse, and the sound of something ripping.

Metal hitting flesh. Flesh hitting flesh.

An animal growl.

"All right." A commanding voice rose over the chaos. "Hold it! Everybody stand down!"

And then the lights came on.


"What in hell is going on in here." A tall, burly man strode into the room, and put his hands on his hips. "I thought I …. Andy?"

Andrew dropped the arm he was holding and straightened from a crouch, turning to face the newcomer. "Lo, Steve." His eyes anxiously checked the sprawl of bodies between the ruined computer consoles. "You all okay?"

"Fine." Ceci squirmed out from under Dar's outstretched leg.

"Yeah." Kerry didn't move an inch, preferring to remain where she was with both arms wrapped around her lover.

"Thanks." Dar grimaced, shifting her weight off her bad arm as she met her father's eyes.

Andrew nodded then returned his attention to the newcomers. The SEALS, both protectors and attackers were sprawled everywhere, fatigues in jungle pattern and black smeared with paint and a thick, glutenous coating that also filled the floor, and was spattered on walls, consoles, equipment, and every other surface within the room.

Andy let the end of the firehose he'd been wielding drop off his shoulder, then he glanced down at his feet with a sense of tired disappointment. He reached out a sneakered foot and rolled over the slumped form dressed in similar black fatigues, and gently booted the rifle he'd taken from the attacker far out of range. "Damn."

"Holy shit." Steve Drake had picked his way over to where Andrew was standing. "What the hell's the CO doing here? Did you hit him? Why? What the hell are you doing here? Who.. hey, ain't that your little girl and the missus?"

"Steve." Andy exhaled.

"What happened to these damn machines?" The SEAL commander turned and glared at the slowly disentangling team members. "I thought I told you people not to touch any of this.." Steve stopped talking, as a large hand fit itself over his mouth.

"Hush." Andy exhaled. "We got a lot to talk through. Get some medics in here first."


"Just do it." Andy's voice took on a crisp stern quality.

Dar managed to push herself upright, hampered by both her arm, and Kerry's tenacious hold on her. She let her head rest against the wreckage of the console and blinked. "Doug?"

"Just fine, ma'am." Doug and his companion crawled out from between the computer and the nearby wall. They were both covered in dust, but unharmed. "That other lady officer took off in the dark, though. I don't know what happened to her."

Several possibilities occurred to Dar, and caused her to smile unpleasantly. She hurt too much to enjoy them, however. "Take the box, and get outside. Mark's waiting for you. Get it into my car, and just get off base." She kept her voice low. "Move it."

Doug hesitated, then his freckled face scrunched into a grimace, and he nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Be careful." He and the other tech carefully uncovered the disk assembly, and lifted it between them, then started to make their way quietly towards the door, dodging the cursing, slipping SEALS.

Kerry's eyes were on the still form at Andy's feet. "You were wrong." She murmured.

"Yeah." Dar agreed, sadly. "I guess I was. I was hoping I wasn't." She closed her eyes. "He was trying to use the exercise to cover wiping his tracks, I guess."

Kerry shook her head. "I don't get any of this. What about that petty person? Was she part of it too? Is everyone in this place messed up, Dar?"

"I don't know." Dar answered. "I don't want to think about it right now." She let her eyes open, and examine the hole in the console just opposite her. "I hate this."

"Well, hon. I don't think anyone would like being in a half shot up room full of fire retardant foam and cursing sailors." Kerry joked, faintly. "I know I don't."

It was more like a bad dream. Dar felt a hurt beyond the physical as she considered the consequences of the day. Never had to nail a friend, have you? She accepted the self acknowledgment with a bitter taste in her mouth. It was sure easy enough for you to do this to some damn strangers, wasn't it, Dar? You used to laugh about it - remember? It was true, she knew. She remembered exchanging bets with Duks on how many people she could nail at companies they consolidated. What was her record? Fifteen, wasn't it?

Her eyes went to the ceiling. Well. She had a job to do, and after this, chips were going to fall where they fell, that's all. After all, there had been that laser scope on her chest, and now Dar had to face the possibility that given another few seconds, her families' 'old friend' might have chosen to pull that trigger.

That close, with a shotgun, and there was no doubt she would surely have died. It would have been a 'mistake' during an exercise, that was all. Friendly fire, and civilians had no authority to be where they'd been anyway.

Dar's lips twitched. Damn, life just really sucked sometimes. She inhaled, then rolled her head to one side, to meet Kerry's eyes. Had Kerry seen the scope? Did she know what almost happened? "You okay?"

"Me?" Kerry almost spluttered. "I’m perfectly fine, Dar. Can you stand up? I'd like to get the hell out of this room. The smell of that foam is making me sick."

No. Dar realized. She didn't know. After a moment's hesitation, she decided to save the news for later, when they were alone. "Sure. That's a good idea." She got her feet under her and slowly stood up. Kerry held onto her, which she was glad for as a wave of dizziness nearly sent her right back down to the ground again. "Whoa."

"Easy." Kerry wrapped an arm firmly around her. "I got you."

Dar waited a moment, as the buzzing faded, then laid her arm across Kerry's shoulders and took a look around the room for the first time. "Holy shit." She blurted, shocked at the compound disaster the area had become.

"Leave it to your father." Ceci had come up on the other side. "He could do that to a perfectly clean carport, too." She looked up at Dar. "You doing all right?" There was a faint hesitance in her voice. "Or is the smell in here killing you as much as it is me?"

Dar felt sick to her stomach, and the pain in both her shoulder and head seemed to be getting worse. Or maybe it was just a combination of things. "It's pretty bad." She agreed. "We're going to get out of here ."

"Good idea." Ceci remarked, noting but not commenting on the stark paleness of her daughter's face. "I"ll walk out with you." She exchanged glances with Andrew, who nodded, a sober, very serious look on his face. After a moment's pause, she drew in a breath, then settled a hand firmly on Dar's back as they made their way slowly to the door.

Dar glanced to one side, then to the other, a dozen words of protest rising to her lips about this overly solicitous behavior. Then her stomach almost rebelled, making her glad of Kerry's grip, and she decided to make an exception.

Just this once.


Andrew watched his family leave, then he turned back to his old friend, Steve Drake.

"So, what's the deal, Big A?" Steve asked, folding his arms across his chest. "Better come up with something good fore Ainsbright wakes up and throws you in the brig." He glanced down. "Gonna be some pissed."

"Can't." Andy replied. "I mustered out." His eyes fell on the still unconscious form of the base commander. "You got medics coming? Ah think I might have busted something in there."

"Yeap. On the way." Steve agreed. "You really retired? No shit?"

Andy nodded. "Got me a nice, peaceful job watching out for mah damn kid." He shook his head. "This ain't a good day, Steve. We got some bad stuff going on here."

The big SEAL snorted. "Here? Nah. Nothin ever goes on here, Andy, you know that better than most. It's so quiet they picked this place to let us to our urban playpen weekend here."

Andy shook his head, remembering those weekends.

"So, what are you gonna tell the heat when they get here? You gonna explain why a retired frogman's holed up inside an official Navy action area, spraying some poor kids with foam and whacking the hell all out of the base commander?"

"No." Andrew replied. "Ah am not going to explain it."

Steve cocked his head in a puzzled fashion.

There was a rifle lying near the wall. Andy walked over and crouched next to it, examining the weapon with knowledgable eyes. "C'mere." He waited for Steve to come over and kneel down. "This what you're arming with?"

A blink. "Hell no." The SEAL commander said. "You know better."

Andy nodded. "Yeap." The rifle was a standard issue old style M16 rifle, with a night scope attached. "Trouble is, what made them holes in them there pieces of machinery sure wasn't this here rifle." He turned and looked. "12 gauge Remington, I’m thinking."

Steve walked over and examined the holes. "Damn." He straightened. "None of my people were carrying those." He came back over. "Andrew, what is going on here?"

Andrew looked from the holes, to his old friend, now starting to groan, then to the rifle he'd taken from Jeff's hands and slammed against the wall. "Ah wish to hell I knew."

"Sir." One of the SEALS had been securing the perimeter of the room. "Sir, I think you'd better come here." He was standing over a stack of boxes filled with fanfold paper.

Andrew and Steve walked over and looked down. Nestled among the boxes was the slumped form of Chief Daniel. "Well." Andy knelt and touched the side of the woman's neck and paused for an instant. "Better tell them medics to get a hop on." He cleared the boxes away from the fallen petty officer, and loosened her collar. Her face was very pale, and the heartbeat he'd had to dig for was faint, fluttering against his fingers erratically. As he moved her slightly, something plastic rolled off her shoulder and rattled against the tile.

"Wh.." Steve stooped and picked it up, holding the syringe carefully. Then he unclipped his walkie talkie microphone from the catch on his padded vest. "Tac one to ops. Need the doc here now." He unkeyed the mic. "Do we need to secure this base?"

Andrew propped the chief's head up on a small stack of paper to keep it off the cold floor. "I think we do."

"All right. We'll do that. Then, Andrew, ya'll are going to tell me what the hell is going on." Steve replied crisply.


Kerry adjusted the passenger's seat back a little, watching Dar's eyes blink slowly in the mid day sun. "You okay here, honey? Would the back seat be better?"

"No, this is fine." Dar murmured. "Feels better to be half sitting. I think if I laid flat, I'd end up chucking my guts all over your pretty new car."

"It's leather. It cleans." Kerry let her hand rest on Dar's thigh as she glanced around. Ceci had gone to get some water, and Mark had already left in Dar's car with the drive array box. It was sunny now, and peaceful out here in the parking lot, with a nice breeze blowing. Kerry felt a lot better, and she hoped that Dar did as well. "How are you doing?"

Dar tilted her head to one side, and regarded her wryly. "I must be doing horrible."

Anxiously, Kerry clasped her fingers in her own. "Why? Does it hurt that bad?"

"No." The blue eyes twinkled, just a little. "It's the seventh time you've asked me in ten minutes." Dar said. "Am I turning green or something?"

"Psshst." Kerry had to laugh. "Sorry." She lifted Dar's hand and kissed it. "This was just a little too much, I think. My mind's going in a thousand different directions."

"Yeah." Dar pulled her closer, into a hug and laid her cheek against Kerry's soft hair. She could warm breath through the fabric of her shirt as the smaller woman sighed. "You know what?"


"I love you." Dar was mildly surprised at how easily that came to her lips now. She felt Kerry smile, and one of her arms snaked around Dar's waist, giving her a hug.

"I love you, too." Kerry murmured.

They stayed that way, even though Dar could see her mother approaching through the windshield. "Sorry I was such a raging bitch today." She said. "This didn't really go like I planned it."

"Oh." Kerry didn't budge. "You mean you didn't expect someone to suspect what we were up to and use a SEAL exercise to cover the destruction of all the evidence?"


"Tch. Bad Dar. No biscuit." Kerry squirmed a little closer. "You must be slipping." She felt the motion under her as Dar chuckled just a bit. "Your tummy's rumbling."

"Not from hunger." Dar sighed, as her mother rounded the door, and paused, watching them bemusedly. "Hi."

"Is it ticking?" Ceci hazarded. "Here, drink some of this. I think it's safe - there's enough chlorine in it to kill anything nasty." She handed Dar a bottle she'd filled from the tap.

"Thanks." Dar accepted it, and took a sip, licking her lips thoughtfully. "Mm… tastes like home." She rolled a mouthful around and swallowed it, perversely enjoying the sharp tang of the minerals and chemicals infusing the tap water. "Nothing else tastes like it."

Kerry lifted her head and straightened, pulling the bottle over curiously and taking a sip.

She blinked, then spit it out immediately. "Yahh!"

Ceci and Dar both chuckled.

"Boy, is that ever an acquired taste." Kerry looked like she desperately needed something. Like a drink of water. "Good grief, Dar! How on earth could you drink that?"

Dar winced, as a wave of nausea hit her. "I’m wondering that myself a the moment. "She said. "Better step back in case I lose what I just swallowed."

Kerry didn't move an inch. She took the bottle from Dar's hands, and gently rubbed her forearm, caressing the warm, bare skin as she watched Dar close her eyes and lean back. "I think we'd better get going." She told Ceci. "Go on and get in. I'll drive over there, then run in and get dad."

Ceci nodded. "Good idea." She opened the back door and climbed inside. "But you drive, I'll go fetch him." She watched Kerry carefully close the passenger side door, then jog around the front of the Lexus. Awkwardly, she patted Dar's arm very lightly. "Hang in there, kiddo."

Hang in there. Dar swallowed, uncomfortably aware of the pain in her head and shoulder getting worse. "Do my best." Even the sound of Kerry's closing the door hurt. "Did Mark get that box?"

"He got it, honey." Kerry backed the car, then put it in gear and headed for the building. "Don't worry about that."

Okay. Dar closed her eyes, and concentrated on taking shallow breaths. She didn't want to throw up. That would hurt. That would make her head hurt a lot worse than it did. It would also, the more ingenious part of her argued, ruin the new car smell of Kerry's little blue buggy.

That would be bad.

She wouldn't get a biscuit.

Dar winced. Right now, the last thing on earth she wanted was a biscuit.


Kerry rubbed her hands, and settled back against the wall, crossing her arms as she watched Dr. Steve fussing over Dar. It was cold in the emergency room, and she found herself wishing she had a sweatshirt.

Actually, she wished she wasn't here at all, having to watch all the activity around Dar with a heavy, nervous knot in her stomach. Dr. Steve had taken one look at her lover, and sent them both straight to the hospital, with him driving right behind them.

What was worse was that Dar hadn't protested. Even now, she was resting quietly on the padded rolling bed, with her eyes mostly closed as both doctor and nurses poked at her. That made Kerry realize whatever was wrong was serious, because otherwise she knew Dar would be pitching God's own fit.

She wondered how Andy and Ceci were coping out in the waiting room, where they'd reluctantly retired to wait after Andy had carried Dar inside, an image that had imprinted itself on Kerry's heart.


Kerry jumped, then focused on Dr. Steve's kindly face. "Oh, god. Sorry." She searched his eyes anxiously. "How's she doing?"

"I’m guessing she feels like the turd end of a pig in a bog right about now." The doctor told her. "She got herself real concussed there, and looks like she did more damage to her shoulder."

"Oh." Kerry's brow knit. "Is she going to be okay?"

Dr. Steve patted her cheek. "Eventually, sweetheart." He told her. "I need to get a cat scan of that head, though. Would you mind going on in with her, just in case she realizes I've gone and stuck her inside a blinking, white tube?"

"Sure." Kerry felt a little better. "Anything I can do to help."

The CAT scan room was a short elevator trip away, and Kerry spent the moments gently rubbing her lovers' fingers as the blue eyes peered muzzily at her. "Hey, sweetie."

"Ow." Dar replied.

"I know." Kerry walked alongside the gurney as they exited the elevator and moved down the hallway. "Dar, honey, they need to take pictures of your head, okay?"

A groan.

"Yeah, I know.. you hate that, but Dr. Steve really needs to see what's going on in there." Kerry told her. "So you just keep your eyes closed, and it won't be that long, I promise."

"Promise?" Dar mumbled.

"I promise." Kerry repeated, as they rolled over to the big machine. "Just keep your eyes closed, okay?"

"Okay." Dar agreed. "Just stay here with me."

Oo. Kerry eyed the plethora of machinery, then her lover's pale face. "Don't worry. I will. I promise." She took hold of Dar's hand, and squeezed into a corner, as much out of the way as she could manage.

The technician came over, and glanced at her. "Ma'am, you can wait over there." He pointed towards a low bench, giving her a friendly smile.

Dar's fingers tightened on hers, and Kerry met the tech's eyes squarely. "No, I can't." She said. "My friend here is extremely claustrophobic, and has a concussion. You don't want her freaking out."

The man glanced at Dar, then at Kerry. "Okay." He agreed cheerfully. "I can buy that. Just try to stay as clear of the machine as you can."

Kerry was pleasantly surprised by the easy capitulation. "Thanks." She relaxed. "I will."

The tech, a young blond haired man about Kerry's age expertly arranged Dar on the table, and moved the machine to cover her. "Was she in a car accident?"

"Ah.. no." Kerry replied. "She.. um… " Got hit in the head with a rifle? No, you can't say that. "It's complicated."

"Okay." The tech signalled to his partner, who was behind a console. "Whatever you say. I never argue with a lady wearing two cell phones and three pagers."

Kerry glanced down at her belt, then felt herself blushing. "Ah, yeah." She heard the machine start humming, and felt Dar's grip tighten painfully. "I'm carrying for both of us right now." She chafed Dar's fingers. "Easy, Dar, I’m here."

The grip lessened, just a trifle. "I'll always be here." Kerry whispered.


"Okay." Dr. Steve entered the emergency room alcove they'd been assigned to. Andy and Ceci were standing on one side of Dar's rolling bed, and Kerry was on the other, all of them attempting to comfort her. "Sweetie pie, you did quite a job on yourself."

Dar had her eyes open a little more now, having been pumped full of several syringes of things. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Dr. Steve walked over and rested his hands on the bed. "I'm admitting you."

Dar grimaced.

"Ah ah ah." The doctor shook his finger at her. "It's all your own fault, young lady. If you'd have stayed at home and rested like I told you do, you'd still be there, and not here."

Dar's lips twitched into a scowl. "I had something I had to do." She protested tiredly.

"Uh huh, and now what you have to do is spend some time in here, letting me fix you." Dr. Steve replied. "You have a concussion, honey, and there's some swelling in there because of that. You're not going anywhere until I'm sure that's gone." He touched the side of her head, which was dark with bruising. "And I’m calling in an orthopedic surgeon to look at your shoulder."

Dar's blue eyes popped wide open, but then, so did Kerry's, Ceci's and Andrews. "What?"

Dr. Steve put a finger on Dar's nose. "What part of that wasn't in American English? Now you relax, and let them take you upstairs, and get you comfortable." He patted his profoundly unhappy looking patient's arm. "Don't give the nurses a hard time. I like the ones' here, and you'll give me a bad name if you do." With that, he left, after giving Andrew a reassuring pat on the back.

"Shit." Dar exhaled.

"Now, Dardar." Andy put a hand on her shoulder. "Just you relax, like Steve said, and get you some rest."

"In here?" Dar eyed the white ceiling. "Not likely."

Kerry actually smiled. "I never thought I'd be glad to hear you griping." She admitted. "But I know it means you feel better, so I am glad."

Dar eyed her. "Easy for you to say. You get to go home." She grumbled. "I have to stay here and be poked, prodded, messed with , and put up with god knows what."

Kerry exchanged glances with her in laws. "Honey, I’m going to go give them your insurance card, okay?" She said, diplomatically. "I'll be right back." She tweaked Dar's toe, then left, passing through the divider curtains and letting them fall closed behind her.


Dar closed her eyes and counted to twenty. Then she counted to twenty again. Then she opened her eyes, and found she was still in the hallway, waiting to be shoved into the elevator. She closed her eyes again.

Dar didn't like frustration. She usually dealt with it in one of two ways - she got rid of it by getting rid of it's source, or she went out and did something physical until the feeling of rage faded. At the moment, neither of those two options were available to her.

If she was being very honest with herself, it wasn't the hospital she hated. The gurney started into motion with a jerk, and she opened her eyes to see the walls moving past. It was the lack of personal control over what was going on, and the fact that she was forced to allow strangers to invade her personal space and strip away her dignity.

Not to mention the damn gowns. Dar had let them put one on her, but she'd refused to remove her jeans, even after Dr. Steve had threatened her with a pair of surgical scissors. She still had them on now, providing extra warmth beneath the thin hospital sheet that covered her, smelling of bleach and antiseptic.

The elevator doors closed, and she listened to the nurses' tuneless whistling as the car lurched into motion. That made her still aching head hurt more, and she sighed, biting her tongue to keep from snapping at the man. The nausea had faded, and Dr. Steve had firmly strapped down her arm again, making the pain bearable, but the various aches and the aggravation were wearing very hard on her temper.

And Kerry had disappeared. Dar spent a moment glumly wondering if her cranky ill temper had finally pushed one button too many, even with her lover's usual patience. The thought brought an irrational jolt to her chest, as the fatigue wore down her defenses and let her darker insecurities surface.

Fortunately, she didn't really have time to dwell on it, as the elevator doors opened and her porter pushed her out onto a relatively quiet hospital floor, with shoe squeekingly clean floors, and weave walls the color of road kill. Dar hated it immediately, especially when she was guided into a half darkened room midway down the corridor.

"Here we are." The man pushing her announced cheerfully. "Let me just swing you over here, and we'll get you settled into this nice bed."

Dar realized she was too tired to even be disgusted. She eyed the bed, then glanced around the room, realizing it was the only bed in it. Could she have gotten that lucky? She'd been hoping, at the best, for either no room neighbor, or a sleeping one. It was a fairly sizable room too, with a wide, bay window and a sort of padded day bed lounger near that presumably for the patient to relax in.

Hm. Maybe they were out of double rooms. Well, Dar wasn't going to argue with that, sharing the space was one thing she'd been truly dreading. She waited until the rolling bed was even with the stationary one, and the nurse had lowered the rails, then before he could grab hold of her, she moved herself from one to the other in a single, fluid motion.

"Hey." The nurse blurted. "Honey, I was going to help you."

"I know." Dar exhaled. "It's okay." The effort had exhausted her and she laid back against the pillows, and allowed the nurse to fuss with the blankets.

"Are you one of those really independent people?" The man's voice was sympathetic. "I'm like that, too."

Dar glanced at him. "Yeah, I guess I am." She admitted.

"Well, you just take it easy, okay? They'll take good care of you up here, even if you don't want them to." The nurse chuckled. "The floor nurse will be in soon to take your vitals, and get your chart started, and then they'll bring you up some dinner." He checked a tag on Dar's arm. "They'll probably want you to take your jeans off, too."

Dar's eyebrow edged up.

"Don't let them intimidate you." The man whispered, giving her a wink. "Sleep in em if you want." He grinned, and patted Dar's leg, then made his way out of the room.

Hm. Dar had to smile, just a little. Then she sighed, and let her head fall back, her mind turning over vague worries and more concrete ones, like what the hell they were going to do with her shoulder. Her head turned, and she peered at her own arm in worried annoyance. Then she looked around the room, which was depressing and silent.

Surprising how alone you could feel inside a busy place like a hospital. Dar closed her eyes and allowed herself a moment of shockingly pungent self pity. She really didn't want to be here.

She just wanted to go home.


Kerry paused in the doorway for a moment, watching the quiet figure lying on the bed. There was something so vulnerable about Dar she almost didn't want to walk in, for fear of startling her lover too badly. She took a breath, hesitating before she called out. "Hey."

Dar's head came up and she looked around, their eyes meeting with an almost palpable intensity. "Hey." Dar managed a smile. "Thought you went on home."

Kerry walked over to the bed. "You thought wrong." She eased the bag on her shoulder off and let it drop to the ground. "I’m not going anywhere." She leaned on the railing, absorbing the look on Dar's face. "I’m staying right here with you."

Dar felt a little ashamed. "Hey, you don't have to do that." She replied. "Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but you need to go get some rest yourself."

"No." Kerry spoke the truth she felt in her heart, and saw in Dar's eyes. "Mom and Dad are going to stay at our place, and keep Chino company." She took Dar's hand. "This is where I want to be, and you're not convincing me otherwise so just forget it."

Dar's eyes dropped to the blanket, then lifted again, filled with simple, yet poignant gratitude. "Thanks." She said, softly. "I’m feeling pretty ragged right now."

"I know." Kerry replied. "Dr. Steve said some of that is from your concussion, and he knows you must be hurting a lot, but they can't give you much for the pain because of your head."

Dar nodded. "I figured that out." She glanced around the room. "At least it's quiet in here, hm?"

Kerry also looked around. "Yeah, not bad." She nodded. "Nice view."

Dar studied her profile, seeing the slight tensing of the muscles on either side of Kerry's mouth. "Did you arrange for this?"

Now the green eyes drifted around and met hers, and the hidden smile emerged fully, making those eyes twinkle. "Yes, I did." Kerry replied. "And you're in no condition to argue with me about it."

Despite the aches, and the pains, and the aggravation, Dar suddenly felt much better. "You know something?"

"Hm?" A blond eyebrow raised in question.

"You're better than ice cream."

The smile turned into a broad grin, which wrinkled Kerry's nose up and transformed her entire face. "There goes my life's goal.. now what do I do?" She laughed. "C'mon, tiger. Let's get those jeans off. I brought your travel bag in, and it has real pajamas in it."

Dar relaxed, and accepted her fate. "Oh ho." She remarked wryly. "Now I know why you arranged for a private room."

"Absolutely." Kerry agreed with the banter. "You're helpless, and in my clutches here alone, and I can do whatever I want to you." She started removing one of Dar's socks, and tickled the bottom of her foot. "I am in total control."

Dar snickered. "You know, Ker, that would be more effective if you didn't have that cute little nose."

A sigh. "I'd never be cast as a domineering world conqueror, huh?"

"No." Dar muffled a laugh.

"Guess I'll have to just make the best of it." Kerry leaned over and bit her on the toe.

"Ooh." Dar jumped, allowing herself to be absorbed into the play, and forgetting for the time being where she was, and how she felt.

Which, of course, is exactly what Kerry, the undercover conqueror of the world, intended.


They heard the rumble of the dining cart long before it screeched to a halt somewhere near their door. Kerry glanced up from her laptop, which was open on of all places her lap, then set the machine aside and got up from the low couch.

Dar had dozed off after she'd changed, finally succumbing to the events of the day, leaving Kerry to work on sorting and organizing the data from the base. She was glad her lover had gotten some rest, the dark circles apparent under her very blue eyes had started to be worrying, and she debated waking Dar up for the dinner she knew was on the way.

Dar forestalled her decision by stirring, and Kerry crossed quickly over to put a hand on her arm as her eyes blinked open, and she looked around disorientedly. "Hey.. it's okay." Kerry reassured her. "You just took a nap."

"Ah." Recognition flooded Dar's face, and she flexed her hands. "Yeah… guess I did. What time is it?"

"About six." Kerry told her, looking up as an older woman dressed in Pepto Bismol pink with a floral hair net entered. "Dinnertime."

"Hello." The woman smiled at Dar. "Ready to eat?" She slid a tray onto the rolling bedside table and maneuvered it in front of her noncommittal patient. "Your doctor ordered you a regular diet, so we brought you something pretty standard. Tomorrow you'll get a card, so you can order what you want, okay?" She had a kindly face, and beautifully arranged silver gray hair.

"Anything?" Dar drawled, still half asleep.

"Well, anything on the card." The woman laughed. "My name's Sue, and I'm here at nights. Give me a call if there's anything you need while I’m up here. No guarantees, but I'll see what I can do." She waved at them, then left the room.

"Mm." Kerry leaned on the railing. "What a nice lady."

Dar fingered her silverware, and studied the plastic tray and it's contents with wary suspicion. "The guy who brought me up here was nice, too. Did you arrange for that while you were at it?" She smiled at Kerry.

Kerry chuckled, but shook her head. "No." She lifted the cover off the tray and allowed steam to escape. "Ah. Chicken."

"Yes, chicken." Dar agreed, examining it. "But on the bright side, those are sort of mashed potatoes, aren't they?" She poked at them.

"So they are." Kerry said. "They even brought peas, your one concession to vegetables." She noticed. "And jello."

"I like jello." Dar allowed. "You think it's strawberry?"

Kerry selected a jiggling cube and put it into her mouth experimentally. "Yeth."

"Eh." Dar stabbed the half chicken with her fork. "Considering the last thing I had to eat in a hospital, this isn't too bad." She managed to rake a bit of the white meat off and tasted it. It was fairly bland, but not as dry as she'd expected, and she found it tolerably edible. "Mm."

"Here." Kerry held her hand out. "Let me borrow your fork and knife, and I'll cut that up for you. Must be a pain trying to do it one handed."

Dar hesitated, then handed the impliments over. "Yeah." She busied herself with the cup while Kerry leaned over and sawed industriously at her main course. "On the other hand…" Dar found a very tasty looking bare shoulder very near by. She licked it.

"Yipe!" Kerry jumped. "Oh.. Jesus, Dar. I had no idea what that was."

Dar nibbled the soft skin, breathing in the warm, clean scent of her lover with a sense of quiet pleasure. "Mm…. Much better than chicken."

Kerry put the knife and fork down and responded, sliding a hand up to rest against Dar's cheek, as she found the exploring lips, tasting a hint of the chicken on them, and the sweet tang of the apple juice Dar had taken a sip of.

Boy, that felt good. Kerry lost herself in the moment, tuning everything out to concentrate on just how smooth Dar's skin was, and just how wonderful it was to kiss her. After a moment they parted, and gazed into each other's eyes. Kerry was very conscious of how unsteady her breathing was. "Mm."

Dar's eyes reflected a quiet passion of her own. "To hell with dinner." She murmured softly, running her fingers down Kerry's shirt, and finding a gap in the buttons.

"Um." Kerry glanced up. "We're in a hospital, honey."

"So?" Dar defeated the button, and smiled as she felt Kerry respond to her touch, pressing her body forward against her exploring fingers. "You did ask for a private room." She leaned forward a little and kissed her lover again.

"You're hurt." Kerry's breath whispered against Dar's lips.

"This makes me feel much, much better." The ready argument came back at her.

"The door's open." Kerry feebly parried.

"We're not in the cardic care unit."

Kerry found herself walking a fine line, her body's overwhelming craving warring with her conscience, and the knowledge a legion of censorious nurses could walk in at any moment. Well, a few more seconds of this can't hurt.

And it didn't. She ended up half sitting on the bed, both arms around Dar's neck and Dar's arm around her waist.

Then a loud crash happened outside, and they stopped, separating a little and looking at each other. "Did we cause that?" Kerry asked, nervously.

"Why don’t' you look?" Dar answered.

Look? Kerry imagined turning her head to see a doorful of people staring back. "Nu uh. You look."

"Me?" Dar remained where she was, looking intently into Kerry's eyes. "You sure?"

She was getting lost again, this time into those rich blue pupils, wanting nothing more than to lean forward and take up right where she left off. Her body was craving it now, Dar's hand moving slowly, teasingly across the fabric of her jeans, pausing to pluck lightly at the seams.

Footsteps clacked nearby, though. Kerry swallowed, and got her breathing under control, then released one arm so that she was merely perched on the bed. Dar's hand captured hers and they twined fingers, letting out twin sighs as the footsteps hurried past, and she caught a glimpse of a white and blue uniform go by.

"That was fun." A tiny, mischievous glint danced in Dar's eyes. "Bet it's quieter here later on."

Kerry's nostrils flared. "Oh." She let out a faint laugh. "I hope so."

They both looked at the tray. "Chicken, huh?" Kerry picked up the fork and stabbed a piece, then offered it to Dar. "If you share, I'll go get a pizza later."

Dar munched contentedly. "Deal." She agreed.


"How's it going?" Ceci's voice crackled softly in Kerry's ear. "Andy's been pacing for hours, so I hope Dar's gotten more rest than he has."

"I think she's okay." Kerry murmured, casting an eye over her sleeping partner. Dar had half curled onto her side and was resting comfortably, the blankets tucked up around her shoulders as the soft nightlight threw shadows over her strong, planed features. "She's been sleeping for a little while."

"That's a first." Ceci chuckled. "I'd have thought she'd be climbing the walls by now."

"No." Kerry stretched, and leaned back. "We had dinner, then we.. ah.. talked for a while. The nurses came in and took readings and stuff, then I got her to lay down. She's been fine." The medical attention hadn't gotten Dar too upset, really. Her blood pressure had been low, she'd had no temperature - she'd even smiled at the nurse.

Of course, Kerry had felt pretty relaxed by then too. A smirk appeared on her face.

"No signs of anything with the concussion?" Ceci asked. "She's alert, and all that?"

The smirk widened. "Oh.. yeah. She's um.. very aware."

"Good." Dar's mother sighed. "Last time she had a concussion, she was in a fog for two whole days, and she scared the.." Ceci abruptly fell silent. "Listen to me. You'd think I was… "

"Her mother or something?" Kerry finished warmly.

Ceci sighed. "I’m glad you're there for her, Kerry."

"Me too." Came the soft reply. "I’m not sure which one of us is benefiting more, though. I know I'd be really unhappy if I wasn't camping out with her." Kerry checked her watch. Eleven thirty. She wondered if she could get comfortable on the little couch, wishing she'd brought something useful like a sleeping bag to make the furniture more bearable. "How's Chino?"

"Bouncing." Ceci replied. "But now that we know Dar's all right, maybe she'll settle down if Andy does." A low rumble moved closer. "Honey, she's fine. Kerry said she's asleep, and there's no problem." A rustle.


Kerry grinned. "Yes, dad?"

"Dardar's not giving you any fuss?"

"Nope." Kerry assured him. "She's been a model patient."


"Yeah. Better bring her ice cream tomorrow as a reward, don't you think?" Kerry teased. "She's being such a good girl."

Andrew chuckled. "Glad to hear that, Kerry. We'll be there, don't you worry. I got something I need to take care of early, then we'll be down."

Kerry's ears pricked up, but she hesitated, not wanting to ask questions over the hospital's phone lines. Time enough tomorrow to ask him, when they were face to face. "Okay. See you then."

"All right." Andy said. "Tell Dardar.. " He hesitated.

"Tell her you love her? Sure." That was an easy one. Kerry said goodbye, and put the phone back in it's cradle, then she got up and reviewed her little couch. It wasn't like she was a giant or anything, either, Kerry reasoned. At all of five foot six, surely she had to fall into the wide part of the bell curve.

Yet the padded couch seemed barely large enough to lie down on, much less to accommodate her admittedly restless mode of sleeping. "I’m going to end up on the floor." She murmured. "I just know it." But, it was all she had to work with, unless she wanted to cut to the chase and take up residence on the chilly tile. A glance over her shoulder. Or crawl into bed with Dar, and give the nurses a real shocker in the morning.

Mm. Her body liked that idea. Kerry rubbed her temples, and firmly turned her thoughts elsewhere. But in a moment, she found herself standing at Dar's bedside, her hands resting lightly on the railing that fenced her partner in. She reached over and gently moved a lock of disheveled black hair, stroking it's silky smooth texture, and letting it tangle around her fingers.

She felt more peaceful, Kerry realized, just being close to Dar, and she spent a few minutes idly wondering why. Was it just because Dar's sleeping expression was so relaxed? There was none of the usual tensions that characterized her expression, the slight narrowing of her eyes, and bunching of her jaw muscles that made Dar appear restlessly alert all the time.

Not now. Kerry could see only the faintest motion of her eyes under their lids, and wondered what her lover was dreaming of. She gazed down for another moment, then she walked over to the heavy visitor's chair and picked it up, putting it down right next to the bed. Okay. She lowered the guard rails, then sat down, and rested her arm on the bed, putting her chin down on it and reaching up to circle Dar's slack fingers with her own.

They were clasped instinctively, a welcome warmth that made her smile. She decided to just rest here a minute, then get up and try to get comfortable on her torture couch. Kerry closed her eyes, smiling a little when she felt Dar's breath warming the skin on her forearm. Mm. That felt nice.



Continued in Part 8